Billionaires: Ambani’s Reliance bids for India’s solar subsidies in green push

In our fortnightly round-up, Gautam Adani boosts coal assets despite vow to be carbon neutral and Richard Branson takes stake in space investment firm Seraphim

FILE PHOTO: Mukesh Ambani, Chairman and Managing Director of Reliance Industries, attends the company's annual general meeting in Mumbai, India, August 12, 2019. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas/File Photo
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Mukesh Ambani

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries is considering a bid for Indian government incentives for solar power manufacturing, as the fossil fuels company begins a $10 billion push into clean energy.

Reliance, India’s most valuable company, attended a pre-bid meeting held last month to discuss the subsidy programme, sources told Bloomberg.

The talks underline Mr Ambani’s ambitions for the company to make rapid growth in renewable energy to supplement its existing businesses. Reliance said last month it plans to build factories to produce solar components, energy storage batteries and electrolysers for making green hydrogen and fuel cells.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announced financial benefits for manufacturing in a range of sectors, including solar energy and batteries, to revive an economy battered by the Covid-19 pandemic and to reduce dependence on imports.

This is an opportunity that is attracting local and foreign investors. State-run miner Coal India, which is examining new businesses to offset a slowdown in demand for the fuel, is also considering putting in bids for subsidies to manufacture solar equipment, the sources said. US company CubicPV said this month it is looking for an Indian partner to jointly bid for the incentives.

India, the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, plans to expand its renewable power capacity nearly five-fold to 450GW by the end of the decade in a bid to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. Solar power will account for around 62 per cent of the 2030 target, meaning the country will need to add about 26GW of capacity annually for the next nine years. The country’s own factories can currently meet less than half the demand for modules.

The government is giving 45bn rupees ($603 million) to companies setting up solar manufacturing facilities. Proposals such as the plan Reliance unveiled last month to make the entire chain of products – from raw material polysilicon to finished modules – would win preferential treatment, ministry documents show.

Gautam Adani

Gautam Adani is increasing his footprint in fossil fuels, new research shows, even as the Indian billionaire vows to make his ports-to-power conglomerate carbon negative.

The Adani Group is doubling its coal-fired power capacity to 24GW. It plans to own, develop or operate new coal mines with a combined capacity of 132 million tonnes a year and is pursuing oil and gas projects, including a partnership with France’s TotalEnergies, according to a report published by environmental non-profit Market Forces.

The Australia-based organisation, a vocal critic of Mr Adani’s Carmichael coal project in Queensland, said its analysis is based on data from several Adani holdings.

Taken together, these initiatives show a company that is making a significant negative contribution to global warming rather than preparing for the energy transition, said Pablo Brait, a campaigner at Market Forces.

The findings may increase scrutiny on the India-based group and its founder, who is rapidly rising up the ranks of Asia’s richest people and earlier this year signed one of the continent’s biggest clean energy loans with 12 global banks.

I know of no other organisation in the world that has accelerated its renewables footprint as rapidly as the Adani Group
Gautam Adani, chairman and founder of Adani Group

While almost all of Mr Adani’s coal assets are in India – where the government says it can’t prioritise eliminating emissions without sufficient financing from richer nations – it is facing growing pressure from activists and some investors over the Carmichael project.

The conglomerate will make the transition to carbon negative “by carefully balancing our energy migration”, Mr Adani said on June 30 at the India Global Forum, without providing a timeline.

He added that a shift away from cheaper fossil fuels “should not crush the aspirations of the thousands that lack electricity”.

Coal currently contributes almost 70 per cent of India’s electricity production, although that share has been declining.

While addressing his group’s shareholders last Monday, Mr Adani said Adani Green Energy became the world’s largest solar company in 2020 and after a recent acquisition has reached its renewables target of 25GW four years ahead of schedule.

“I know of no other organisation in the world that has accelerated its renewables footprint as rapidly as the Adani Group,” he said.

Richard Branson

Richard Branson has acquired a stake in Seraphim Space Investment Trust, the first venture capital fund focused on the space sector, as part of a £178m ($247m) initial public offering.

The billionaire purchased stock in London-based Seraphim in a sale that closed last week, Will Whitehorn, the company’s chairman, said. He declined to disclose the size of the commitment.

Mr Branson is backing the UK company as his own Virgin Galactic Holdings prepares to carry tourists to the edge of space. The entrepreneur and five other crew rocketed to an altitude of 85 kilometres in a test flight last Sunday, high enough to experience weightlessness and view the curvature of the Earth. Virgin Group confirmed that Mr Branson is a Seraphim investor.

Mr Whitehorn, a former Virgin Galactic president, said Airbus was among other parties to buy shares of Seraphim, which is set to start trading on Wednesday on the main market of the London Stock Exchange.

The closed-ended investment firm said the IPO had been oversubscribed, with applications scaled back to equal the £150m originally targeted. A further £28.4m has been raised in connection with the acquisition of 15 initial assets.

Mr Whitehorn said the positioning of the flotation between Mr Branson’s space mission and another to be flown on July 20 by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was entirely fortuitous and came about after the Seraphim IPO was delayed.

“A lot of our advisers thought we were taking a risk once they saw the timing of Richard’s flight,” he said. “It could have been that things did not work out quite so well.”

Seraphim has been investing in space since 2016.

Josh Harris

Josh Harris, the co-founder of Apollo Global Management, who was passed over for the top job at the private equity powerhouse earlier this year, is laying the groundwork to raise his own fund.

Mr Harris, who helped found Apollo in 1990 with Leon Black and Marc Rowan, met recruiting firms to help him start building a team, according to sources. The fund will focus on middle-market private equity deals and has a loose target of $5bn, they said.

Mr Harris is striking out on his own after announcing in May that he would be relinquishing his day-to-day responsibilities at Apollo.

Mr Harris is worth an estimated $7bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His family office manages his personal fortune. So far this year, Mr Harris has sold $157m worth of Apollo stock, leaving him with $2.6bn in shares.

I continue to look forward to returning to my roots as an investor and entrepreneur
Josh Harris, co-founder of Apollo Global Management

Mr Harris said in a statement through a spokesman that he is “not fund-raising” and has “no other specific plans”. In the emailed statement, Mr Harris said he will “remain focused on my work at Apollo” and will transition out of his role early next year. “I continue to look forward to returning to my roots as an investor and entrepreneur,” he said.

His decision to call it quits at Apollo came after the firm tapped Mr Rowan to succeed Mr Black as chief executive, leaving Mr Harris without much clout at the company he helped build. His departure will coincide with Apollo’s acquisition of Athene Holding in early 2022, the company said.

Updated: July 18, 2021, 5:00 AM