Energy Finance plays a key role in the commercialization of renewable energy and expanding its reach and ultimately replacing fossil fuels!

Kushagra Ganeriwal, our next pathbreaker, Senior Analyst, looks at the financing of projects and works on financial analysis of certain scenarios on clean energy projects.

Kushagra talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about beginning his career with an internship at TATA Capital and understanding the role of finance in a Cleantech business.

For students, predicting the outcome of a renewable energy project is as much about finance as it is about technology !

Kushagra, tell us about your background?

Most of my initial schooling was in different cities of Gujarat since my dad is a Govt employee and transfers are a common thing in his job. I decided to take up science in 11th and 12th basically attributing it to my family background (Dad is a doctor). I did not want to take bio as a subject as I thought I wouldn’t be able to study well, so I tookup mathematics as core. The goal at that time was not clear to me, I think it is ok if anyone reading this also has similar thoughts. Later, I joined an engineering college in Anand, Gujarat and took up Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering as a field. In 2013, with all the new technologies coming in, I thought it would be a good field, but later decided to pursue higher education right after B.E. I went on to explore opportunities in GATE (M.Tech) and CAT (MBA), both being opposite fields. 

I joined CAT coaching for MBA, and made it to one of the top B-Schools in the country (IMI New Delhi). In IMI, initially I was not clear whether to take Marketing or Finance as core subjects, but we had a rule to submit at least a prospective domain within 2-3 months of entering college. I submitted Marketing as Major and Finance as Minor specialization. 

In 2017, I got an internship offer from TATA Capital, for a role of finance in their Cleantech business (Cleantech business is basically lending to renewable power generators and transmission infrastructure players). I got a good manager to teach and guide me through the 2 months (April and May 2018) of internship which got converted to a PPO (Pre-Placement Offer).

I came back to college in 2018 and took up Finance as a major specialization and Operations as minor. I took up extra courses to tune up the Ops minor to open up more career pathways; I completed Six Sigma green belt from college and later completed black belt during COVID lockdown through an online course, getting a CSSE tag (Certified Six Sigma Executive) on my profile.

On the extra-curricular side of the coin, I have always had a desire to participate in as many activities as possible. During my school days, I participated in a lot of theater, skit, and debate competitions. During Engineering, I was managing most of the Tech fests from my department (ECE). During MBA, I was part of the Economics Club (I have zero background in economics but learned my way through to the club). But most importantly, through these activities, I networked with a lot of people both from my field and from other fields. Contacts are always helpful in gaining knowledge and for career progress, but make sure to have good ones at your hand.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

For graduation, as mentioned before, engineering was what I chose and pursued, and ended up doing one of the best final year projects, which was a smart bench top with many features that we currently have in smart classrooms. Also, I was a key member of the tech fest organizing committee during those 4 years.

For my post-graduation, I did not want to continue in the engineering field but wanted to switch to a management role, and so I did an MBA. I got an internship from there, converted that to a PPO and continued in the company for the next 2.5 years before switching for a new opportunity with DE Shaw Renewable Investments.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

I gained insights on the renewable energy sector during my internship with TATA Capital and it ticked most of the checkboxes that one aspires for from a career standpoint. It is a growing sector for the next 2-3 decades, with many upcoming technologies and improvements, which will keep the sector ticking. So, I decided to proceed with it. And the mostimportant part was I got a finance role which was basically my preference.

My manager from TATA Capital helped me a lot to understand the basics of the sector and dealing with clients from corporates.

My current manager also helped me in picking up the nuances of the US energy market and various finance related topics which influence the market.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

I started on the financing side of the sector and worked with an NBFC (Non-Banking Finance Company) on funding renewable projects across India, then moved on to a developer company that has business in US

Given the college I did my MBA from, the position we join in TATA Cleantech is Manager. I worked on research for Transmission sector in India where the details of my analysis were presented to the senior management and the projects for which this was undertaken, got sanctioned in early 2019 while I was finishing up my MBA.

Energy finance in simple terms is funding an energy generating company based on their revenue stream from selling that power. So, if a company is selling power and has a good credit rating, they can get part of the total money utilized for building the project from a bank. In India, generally this part is about 60-70% of the total project cost.

The core finance roles include understanding the risk factors of the project, the power seller and the buyer. Since it is a banking related product, a person should know about policies in force by government that may be helpful or restricting in nature. For core financial analysis, an understanding of financial statements and financial modelling is necessary. Financial modelling, in simple terms, is all about using your experience and market data to predict nearly 40-50 years of a project’s performance.

How does it connect with tech, well it all comes down to how good an analysis can be done on a project, the closer and accurate the analysis to real performance, the better the chances for success and life of the project. So, yes tech is important.

How did you get your first break?

I got my first job at Tata Cleantech through my internship followed by a Pre-Placement Offer.

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: To understand the sector. It is important to know the basics of the sector you are entering into and what all is required to progress in that sector. I had no knowledge of the sector when I started and had to learn from the very basics of what is required to deal with corporates. People around me helped me very much in this, explaining very simple questions in detail. But, at the end of the day, it is also dependent on how much you read and apply logic yourself.

Challenge 2: To be efficient and error free as you progress, which helps in building trust among the clients you deal with. If we are dealing with a client and our information is accurate, it becomes easy for them to process things and build an environment of trust and respect which is important in any field you work in or study.

Challenge 3: To know how to grow your knowledge is more important than just delivering on the work. To stay updated with the sector and to remain involved in discussions surrounding your sector is very important. This does not necessarily mean within one’s company only, it can be with people from any company or sector.

Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?

I look at the financing of projects and other finance related deals on projects. I also help my team with financial analysis of certain scenarios on the projects.

What skills are needed for a job? How did you acquire the skills?

Finance is the most important technical skill and logical thinking is the most important soft skill.

What is it you love about this job? 

It is challenging and gives different results as you play around with numbers. The more you play around with numbers, the more you start making sense of what an outcome would be.

How does your work benefit society?

I would say it is renewables which is a talking topic of the future, since dependency on oil is temporary. Renewables provide society with a clean and green future.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

1. Don’t think you have a blank future

2. Never say it is this I want to do and this is what I would never do. You never know when you land into something you never wanted

3. Keep all options open and explore topics across domains

4. Read a newspaper daily, more you read, more you know

5. Keep on thinking of a way that can make your work more efficient

6. Decide a domain, but also understand what more can make your profile aligned to it than only academics

7. Participate in discussions and debates

8. Make some time for yourself to focus on topics outside work, it will help in keeping future opportunities open to you.

Future Plans?

For now, I want to continue in this field and explore more opportunities, but in the longer run, I would want to see myself having expertise in the renewable sector across international markets.