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Harnessing the Sun: Pranab Kumar Sarmah

Part of a group that has pioneered renewable energy across the globe, UPC Solar Asia Pacific is taking on the fast-growing Asian markets, with Co-Founder Pranab Kumar Sarmah confident its momentum has resisted the drag of recent world events.

Earth’s climate has fluctuated throughout time, but recently it has been warming at an unprecedented rate. Human activities are behind this worrying trend with our use of energy being the key culprit. Indeed, nearly two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions are linked to the burning of fossil fuels for energy.

But a new sun is rising as renewable energy takes center stage, with companies like UPC Renewables spearheading the trend. Currently, more than 5,000 megawatts of now-operating wind and solar projects have been completed by UPC-formed companies.

In 2017, the company launched UPC Solar Asia Pacific, co-founded by Pranab Kumar Sarmah, who is also CEO of GreenAge Capital, to specifically oversee the development and management of solar projects in the region.

Today, in the Asia–Pacific, the entity has 630 megawatts-peak of jointly owned solar assets in operation and construction, with a further gigawatt of assets in the pipeline.

If you can help mankind, the business will come automatically.

Overcoming hidden obstacles

There is certainly a sense of building momentum for the firm, according to Sarmah, who last spoke with The CEO Magazine in 2019.

"At that time, we hadn’t seen that much of a negative impact because of climate change – it was too early," he recalls.

"But in the past three years, we have seen things getting worse every year, which we predicted a long time back. I continue to believe that it is going to deteriorate further until 2030."

Ensuring that carbon neutrality is achieved as quickly as possible is therefore critical, despite the difficulties deeply and historically embedded in that journey.

"There are a lot of hidden obstacles in many jurisdictions," he says. "We hope governments and other stakeholders will be much more proactive in promoting carbon neutrality in their countries."

Such a shift would be broadly beneficial all round – benefiting humanity first and the organization second, according to Sarmah. "If you can help mankind, the business will come automatically."

Other challenges include sudden changes in the macroeconomic environment due to the Russia–Ukraine war. Rising interest rates and depreciating Asian currencies since April 2022 are likely to significantly affect the project economics in 2023 for the industry, he reveals.

Staying agile

Top it all off with a number of geopolitical and supply chain issues, and the pressure on the bottom line mounts. Nonetheless, Sarmah has a positive outlook, highlighting UPC Solar Asia Pacific’s enviable project execution records.

This success comes down to the company’s agility, he explains.

"In this continuously changing environment, being nimble and having quick decision-making skills are very important so that projects happen on time and you ultimately benefit your shareholders. Everything has to move together, and that is our core advantage compared to many other larger platforms in this market."

As part of this dynamic approach, Sarmah will continue to explore new opportunities in recognition of the shifting nature of the industry.

"Pure solar energy may not be very relevant a few years down the line, so mixing with some other renewable energy sources and energy storage solution can create better stability," he suggests.

"The first stage of the process was getting renewable energy but the second stage will now be more around offering stability, because intermittent renewable energy as a percentage of the total energy managed by the grid has been rising."

You have to empower and give respect to your team and employees because a business cannot be run single-handedly.

Support of the whole team

"I’m very proud that we have a good and efficient team today," Sarmah says. "We have gone through a lot of big issues like the COVID-19 pandemic, but despite that we have delivered projects on time because of support from the whole team."

While he admits that the team is not large, he describes it as highly efficient – an essential component of effective leadership in his view.

APAC Acceleration

UPC Solar Asia Pacific is already making exciting moves in India.

In January 2022, it commenced construction of the 420-megawatt-peak Masaya Solar Farm under the joint venture UPC-AC Energy Solar – a tie-up between UPC Solar Asia Pacific and AC Energy Corporation, which has already built infrastructure for 630 megawatts-peak of solar across India.

This new project, located in the Khandwa District, Madhya Pradesh, will produce 691 gigawatt-hours of renewable energy each year.

It follows the 2021 launch of two solar farms in India – the 140-megawatt-peak Sitara Solar and 70-megawatt-peak Paryapt Solar.

"You have to empower and give respect to your team and employees because a business cannot be run single-handedly," he notes. "Delegation is very important. As long as there is nothing critical, the team can make all the decisions by themselves."

Using this approach, the team is developing and building on the success of the company’s solar projects in the growth markets of Asia, where Sarmah stresses that the transition to clean renewable energy has only just begun.

With focus on new areas, a fresh approach and growing interest, Sarmah appears to be heading in a promising direction.

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