While the city gas distribution (CGD) sector is set to witness significant growth in the years to come, THINK Gas Distribution Private Limited plans on becoming one of the biggest private players in the CGD sector. Established in 2018 to supply natural gas to consumers, the company plans on investing nearly Rs 20 billion in the next five years and has also introduced the concept of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) in safety standards for business development procedures.  

Mr. Sandeep Trehan is the Co-founder and President (Marketing and Business Development) at THINK Gas Distribution Private Limited, with a rich experience of nearly four decades in the energy sector. His core strengths lie in building organizational strength, focus on strategy, retail development, innovation, technical strategy, and business development, among others. Having worked with Exxon Mobil, Reliance, and Indian Oil, Mr. Trehan has an incredible knowledge base, which helps him realize the power of natural gas and create a friendly environment within the organization. He holds a master’s degree in Thermal Engineering and a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. In addition to this, he is also a Diploma holder in Systems Management and -Marketing Management from JBIMS

What is the current status of THINK Gas networks in terms of construction, operation, etc? What are the current volumes and future plans lined up for the next few years?

THINK Gas was set up in 2018 and is a new player in the market as compared to other established companies, including PSUs and major private players. Well supported by a global private equity fund, THINK Gas was a unique company, to enter the city gas distribution business. The company aims to create a difference in the market and offer services and values to create newer customer experiences. Since its inception, the company has focused on technology, safety in operations, the way it works in households and enters a customers’ premises, and the way it transports and dispenses compressed natural gas (CNG) at retail stations.

THINK Gas also introduced the concept of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) in safety standards while developing business. Moreover, the company faced covid-induced disruptions and the pace of business operations deviated from what had been anticipated. The company is presently operational across 13 districts in five states of the country, namely Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh. Some of the major districts covered include Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Bhopal, and Begusarai. At present, THINK Gas operates in over 80 CNG stations across its markets.

In addition to this, the company supplies gas to households, industries, and commercial businesses. The network created in districts covers over 450 kilometres of steel pipeline, covering 15 million population in a 46,000 square kilometre area of its business. THINK Gas aims at bringing a change in people’s lives, making them shift from polluting fuels to green fuels, and is constantly working in the same direction. The company is also working towards introducing other fuels at its stations, in addition to CNG, so that people can have access to cleaner fuels.

Going forward, THINK Gas is planning on investing nearly Rs 20 billion in the next five years and doubling the business at various levels in each of its segments. With new technologies and players coming in, THINK Gas looks forward to working in a direction that can bring a change in the overall offering and experience to a customer while using a clean fuel in their kitchens, vehicles, or burners in commercial and industrial establishments.

What numbers does THINK Gas expect in terms of consumption, networks (number of CNG stations, gas volume, etc), and customers for the coming five years? 

THINK Gas is selling over 200,000 SCM of gas every day and is planning to become one of the biggest private players. The company currently caters to over 30,000 customers on a daily basis and is preparing itself to be able to reach over 15 million population in its markets.

What is the consumer mix that THINK Gas caters to and what is the expected mix in terms of consumption?

Since its inception in 2018, THINK Gas started operations with CNG mostly. Presently, its 80-85 per cent volume is attributable to CNG. Building an ecosystem and a network is time-consuming, and the restriction during the pandemic impacted the company’s pace on the ground too, making it difficult to execute its plans. Despite lockdown restrictions and in a pandemic-affected environment, THINK Gas has been able to create an ecosystem in its markets, and has been able to accomplish a strong network of over 80 CNG stations. The company is now catching up and plans on doubling its volume soon.

What is the most important time-consuming thing for THINK Gas in terms of expanding the construction network? Why is that the case and how can it be mitigated? 

Developing infrastructure is always a challenge in India given that a company must go through various approvals and statutory applications with various government authorities. THINK Gas faced similar challenges when it started its business and worked on technologies to support itself during the construction phase.

We invested in and deployed advanced technologies like QCM (Quality and Construction Management app) a first of its kind, to have better construction management, Geographic Information System (GIS), to eliminate inconsistencies in the pipeline network, and to trace pipeline data and locations with utmost accuracy. These technologies and applications helped the company to build its infrastructure and monitor its activities very efficiently, speeding up its execution work.

How is THINK Gas utilising technologies for maintenance of its existing network as well as construction? 

THINK Gas has developed a Quality and Construction Management application, wherein it captures all data in a digital format that can be stored securely on the cloud where it is accessible very easily, anytime, anywhere. THINK Gas also documents information regarding the ongoing work and inspects the quality standards of the same daily. The company keeps its asset and network information on the GIS platform to have a clear view of its operations. THINK Gas has also deployed a vehicle tracking app – Journey Management Application (JMA), to manage its fleet efficiently across various geographies. This has helped the company in the smooth logistics and meeting its customer demands efficiently. THINK Gas has also successfully deployed Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) based on Cloud Architecture, a first of its kind in India’s Oil & Gas industry, which can be monitored through its control room – Nucleus. SCADA helps in remote monitoring of the company’s assets across its geographies. THINK Gas is also planning to adopt Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems. THINK Gas is currently working on building a robust CRM system for itself and will be deploying it in a couple of months. This will help the company track its customers easily.

For the household sector, the company has deployed Bluetooth-enabled prepaid meters instead of conventional meters, mechanical meters, etc., helping the company to manage its business commercially on the ground. Its customers can use their smartphones to recharge their connections from anywhere, anytime and receive updates about their smart meters. The customers are charged on a pay-as-you-use basis, making it easy for the customers to recharge their connections with as little as Rs 50. THINK Gas is always looking for ways to incorporate technologies in each segment to minimise risks and improve productivity in the company.

Did THINK Gas face any supply chain disruptions amid Covid-19? If yes, has that been sorted out now, and how were the issues resolved? 

Employees at THINK Gas worked for 24 hours, maintaining an uninterrupted supply of natural gas to the customers. In addition to this, they have been following covid-related guidelines and have been vigilant throughout the process. The company protected its contractors and introduced certain covid-related measures along with ESG measures for safety. Although the business was affected from the demand side, the company worked relentlessly for maintaining a smooth communication network with various stakeholders. When Covid-19 was widespread and at its peak, the operational levels declined, to 40- 50 per cent levels. Despite these challenges, THINK Gas demonstrated the ability to ensure the availability of gas at stations, in industries, and other commercial establishments.

Over the next 12 months, how many CNG stations will THINK Gas be adding? What is the expected capex? 

THINK Gas has a twofold strategy in place. One is to increase the volumes that can be sold from the existing stations and the company is continuously working in that direction. This will be done to ensure that, the company is able to increase its volume from its current CNG station network and simultaneously grow its network of THINK Gas branded stations to meet the upcoming demands in our markets. From its current network of over 80 stations, THINK Gas will be doubling the number of stations and is aiming to operationalise over 150 stations by the end of the next fiscal year.

What kind of impact did the green hydrogen policy or implementation of green hydrogen works is expected to be there on THINK Gas’ business? 

Regarding this, THINK Gas is at an evaluation stage. We firmly believe that hydrogen has a role to play in the natural gas sector in the future. THINK Gas has also been observing developments wherein hydrogen is mixed with natural gas and is then supplied. The company will be a part of this ecosystem and believes that hydrogen will be of great help on the supply side.

Is THINK Gas more optimistic about the sector for the future? 

Despite various covid-induced challenges, the company is back both in terms of its plans and growth. Natural gas has a role to play in the transition towards cleaner fuel and the use of natural gas will grow in the coming years.