Excerpt from autobiography of Dinesh Dhamija, entrepreneur and investor

Excerpt from autobiography of Dinesh Dhamija, entrepreneur and investor

Investment Strategy

Did you know that the sun delivers more energy to the earth in one hour than humanity requires over the course of a whole year? Or that in the Middle East, using fossil fuels to generate electricity costs fifty times more than solar energy? Fifty times more! These are the kind of statistics that make my investment antenna start bleeping.

I discovered that Romania has 2110 hours of sunshine per year. To make a solar energy plant profitable, you need 1400 hours a year. So the maths is compelling (and of course, sunshine is free). It will take a major piece of investment: according to our pre-feasibility studies, we’ll need at least €155 million. Since I’ve already invested €15 million in the agricultural land where the solar plant could be built, I need to raise another €140 million. So this is how I’ve approached the project so far:

I researched the solar industry and how it fits into Romania’s economic priorities. The government has received €750 million from the EU to close down its coal-fired power generation plants, so this space will be filled by solar and other renewable sources of electricity, particularly in the south of the country. At the moment, Romania imports 30 per cent of its energy, and the government is keen to reduce that percentage to lower the security and economic risks. So far, Romanian solar generation hasn’t been very effective – their largest plant is just 56MW, compared with mine, which will have 270MW - but the technology is improving all the time. In the past two years, productivity from solar panels has gone up from 12 to 21 per cent. You can buy 580W panels instead of 330W panels. It’s a huge increase. During the pandemic, stockpiles of Chinese-manufactured panels are stacking up in warehouses, bringing the price down even further. Another German company claims that it can increase the electricity yield from panels by more than 100 per cent.

China is behind the most important developments in solar energy: of the top 10 solar panel companies, seven are in China. Their research and development capacity is amazing, the way they’ve brought costs down. Chinese companies are willing to come to Europe and build solar plants from start to finish.

If China is the future, the best prophets are still in the United States. I’ve been watching presentations from Singularity University, the online group set up by Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil, to look at how technology will shape the future. A recent renewable energy paper talks about the prospects for solar power, how productivity of 20 per cent is now a possibility and how new transparent solar panels could one day harvest energy from our buildings, windows, car windscreens and mobile devices. With improved battery capacity and performance, solar energy could satisfy the world’s needs. For my project in Romania, I’m considering growing shade-loving crops such as jalapeño chillies underneath the solar panels – a practice known as agrivoltaic generation.[1]

At an ever-faster pace, governments are responding to the promise of solar. Romania passed new laws on power purchasing agreements, meaning that solar power companies can sell to the French railways, or to Amazon for example. They now offer ‘contracts for difference’, so that if the spot price goes below your cost, they’ll subsidise you to make it up. This all happened in May and June 2020.

From an EU point of view, solar energy also fits right in with its agenda to promote sustainable green development. There’s a €1 trillion fund to develop renewable energy across the continent by 2040, including closing down fossil fuel plants such as those in Romania. There are numerous EU infrastructure grants available in Romania, to build new roads and increase its trading potential, adding up to tens of billions of euros.

[1] Singularity University has been making futuristic prognoses since its foundation in 2008. Co-founder Ray Kurzweil predicted that he will live to 125 and has already reached 72 years old. He claims that around 80 per cent of his many predictions – such as the widespread adoption of the internet - have come true.