The Green initiatives: Looking through the commercial keyhole? - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

If you thought that renewable energy was a pass stuff that will go nowhere, think again. Green energy is no longer a marginal factor. And with the cost of solar panels declining, we can look forward to a real transformation. But wait. There are energy efficient projects too, which can ensure higher returns.

31 Jul 2015 | By Noel D'Cunha

Managing and reducing environmental effects in the process of printing have become essential elements of the print business. That’s because, reports have predicted that if we do nothing to prevent climate change, our economy will shrink by 20%. But if we were to invest a fraction of our income on measures to minimise our environmental impact, we could reduce the pace of it happening.

But one can do that either by generating its power or energy efficient means, for example, re-engineering as done by Repro India. The company achieved this through conversion of a heatset machine to coldset, and for this Repro’s team developed new ink, save on LPG gas, electricity and reducing paper wastage.

Either way, is there any commercial benefit?

First and foremost, one has to find if there’s a level playing field. Till some time ago, the government’s apathy was palpable.  “Level playing field is a birth right for every citizen in the country. That is what the constitution says. But that is about it,” says Narendra Paruchuri, chairman of Pragati Group.

Pragati has installed a 12-kilowatt solar power on the rooftop and uses it for general lighting and some UPS. “It sounds good to say that we use solar power. But at such a small KVA, it is not economical,” he says.

The company also buys 33% of its energy needs from a solar power generation company, however, the price of the energy is comparable to what Paruchuri pays the government for power. “In Hyderabad, the cost of power is high. It sounds nice on our brochure if we write that 1/3 of the energy we use is renewable,” he says.

Animesh Kejriwal, managing director at Parksons Graphics feels that while there are subsidies available and depreciation adjustments for incentivising purchases from renewable sources, “it’s no sufficient to tip the scale”.

Parksons had looked at the solar system extensively when it was setting up its Taloja unit, but found that there was no return on investment. “The storage of the power is the main challenge as well as the efficiency of the panel.”

The technology has improved considerably since then, he said. “The new Tesla power wall can be the catalyst the solar power industry needed. We should see rapid development in the coming years.”

The other thing to note is that solar is not the only renewable source of energy, there’s wind power, like Navneet in Ahmadabad and Lovely Offset in Sivakasi. But for most solar is an option.

A government solar push?
Sometime in the middle of June this year, the Union Cabinet gave its approval to ramp up India’s solar power capacity target under the National Solar Mission by five times, to achieve 100 GW by 2022. The target set was split into rooftop and large and medium scale grid connected solar power projects, at an investment of Rs 6,000-billion. Of this, a capital subsidy of Rs 150-5-billion was allocated to develop rooftop solar projects across India.

Rishabh Singhvi, managing director at IIP, thinks that the government is doing its bit, but actions are to be taken at a corporate or company level. “Solar energy generation requires area which is easily available on land or rooftops. For instance at IPP we are currently installing 400 KW capacity for generating solar power. It will slowly develop as an alternate resource for the future. Dependability will increase.”

Lovely Offset of Sivakasi had installed a 100KW solar plant in its factory two years ago. on a trial basis. And while Lovely’s K Selvakumar may be happy with his achievement, he is still to receive any subsidy till date. “Actually, the government is giving a lot of incentives to developing renewable energy. But the problem is with the implementation,” says Selvakumar, managing director at Lovely.

Like Selvakumar there are others who have some words of warning, and suggest that it may still not be feasible to take the solar route.

“On a policy level I do believe the government is doing a lot for adopting renewable energy, offering incentives, spreading awareness, etc. Execution is where there are issues. These need to be brought out and addressed for businesses to become more willing to look at alternatives,” says Mehul Desai, CEO of MOS.

But is there a case for solar energy? Yes, says Desai, but he is not fully convinced that this would be a reliable solution. “Obstacles need to be removed. The initial expenses, the space required, etc are all difficult for small and medium enterprises,” he says. “At MOS we have studied this and will continue to look for a solution that is workable, efficient and practical.”

Like Desai, Faheem Agboatwala, president of BMPA too feels that the solar technology is still too nascent and that a single printer or manufacturer may not be able to afford a solar farm. “It’s worth getting together and finding out a way. I believe the government is offering subsidies, but no use just announcing schemes. There needs to be correct guidance imparted.”

Putting energy efficiency at the top
While solar energy may be a good option, the return on investment is still not good even after considering subsidy. “The technology still has to improve to make it more cost efficient,” says Selvakumar. He, however, make a case for investing in energy efficient equipment.  “We are slowly converting to LED bulbs wherever lighting is needed for a long time. I think energy audits should be made compulsory. It saves money for the company and creates fewer burdens on the environment.”

Dev Nair, president of All India Federation of Master Printers, says. “Going green is right, prudent and the logical thing to do.” He adds, “The key takeaway here would be the ability to reduce, reuse, recycle, recover and re-purpose.”

True, for many print companies, this would mean saving energy, cutting waste, and streamlining their supplies. But when you do all this no one pays you for these measures. It’s the saving on lower energy bills and a kind of reassurance that what you are doing is the right thing. And in the quest to become sustainable there is nothing wrong with this. “When you do these things, you reduce operating costs, and your efforts of going green or becoming sustainable tend to increase profits,” says Nair.

Some like Selvakumar do it by switching to LED lighting, while Singhvi of IPP by replacing air conditioning with air cooling and installing sensory lighting equipment. “Saving energy is not necessarily by just adopting a solution like solar energy. It starts with being aware, doing those small things which will ensure there is no wastage of energy,” says Desai of MOS.

There is no doubt that energy saving is important. The first step is monitoring “We have meters at various levels and log the data daily. This helps us monitor power consumption of our presses, ACs, compressors etc on a daily basis,” says Kejriwal. The next step is to reduce it. Kejriwal adds, “We've added insulation to reduce ac power costs, switched to variable drive compressors to reduce compressed air power costs etc.”

It’s this data that helps justify investments easily and keep the team motivated to keep chipping away at it.

Then there are modern machines which require lesser power, since they are working on Euro norms, in other words, getting more energy efficient machines. “Besides, these modern machine have lesser breakdowns, says Agboatwala. “We understand this and tend to buy new or very young used machines.”

Vijay Jadhav, the unit head of Repro India, the winner of the first PWI Green Printing Company of the Year 2014, made a presentation on how the book factory deployed environmentally-friendly ways and methods in the printing business during the Webinar hosted by PrintWeek India.

Jadhav mentioned how the use of CIP3 and ink optimiser benefitted the company in terms of direct transfer of data from pre-press to press, reduction in makeready time and waste; reduction in set-off issue and reduction ink usage.

Can both tango?
Given the initial investment, is solar energy better for those who can afford it? Or you should first start with energy efficient means then move to renewable energy (solar)? Efficiency in every aspect is a given. If you can reduce the power requirement even if you have solar, the capital expenditure required will be reduced. “I would focus on energy efficiency in the present. Solar, biogas or whatever else, when it becomes viable, will be a natural progression,” says Kejriwal of Parksons.

For Desai of MOS, the first step is to become aware and start with energy efficient means both in terms of equipment that is deployed and the processes. He says, “Once we have reached this stage should one start exploring options of renewable energy.”

Paruchuri however, thinks that as of now buying from power companies is better and less headache. “If you have land somewhere and you can put a solar plant, then you can swap with the power company and you will get power at a lower rate.”

Selvakumar says that solar projects are good if you have surplus cash and not worried about payback period. “Energy efficiency is compulsory. I think awareness should be created on this subject. We recently noticed that there was at least 20% leakage in an air conditioned printing hall for several years and nobody bothered to plug it,” says Selvakumar.

While all say that doing both, either one of them first, solar panels or reducing energy usage, is the way to go. But are there any downsides?

Desai says, he does not see a down side to being energy efficient. “It can only lead to better utilisation and cost saving. On renewable energy if one were to look at downside then it has to be the initial investment, operational efficiency, consistency.”

Agobatwala says, “Every technology will have its drawbacks but they need to be weighed along with the positives. Solar isn't the only green technology available - several other ways of going green - starting with the owners and workers mindset - this is my opinion will be the hardest obstacle.”

Both, renewable and energy efficient measure require investments in one form or the other. Hence evaluating the correct technology and predicting the ROI are usually the challenges. Most presses outside city limits have to rely on DG sets for backup power. “It's hard to be green if you are running on diesel power - yet it's the need of the hour. Effluent treatment, air emissions are also aspects of green that are largely ignored,” says Kejriwal. He gets philosophically when he says, “Truly green is still some time away for our industry unfortunately.”

Paruchuri sums it up nicely. He says, “I have enough on my plate than generating power. As such I outsource solar power. More of a feel good factor as far as I am concerned. I feel like a responsible global citizen, I must do my part to cut the carbon-dioxide emission.”