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India’s Readiness as Solar Energy Leader

With the ambitious targets of 20GW of solar base by 2022, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) has gotten the ball rolling for the growth of solar energy in India. One of the goals of the JNNSM is to grow indigenous manufacturing, supply and service capabilities for the solar value-chain in India.

The value chain of the solar industry in India at the present time and that which is required by 2022

The value chain of the solar industry in India at the present time and that which is required by 2022. Silicon refers to crystalline silicon (c-Si).

Polysilicon

With the lack of competitive polysilicon availability, ingot/wafer manufacturing is not a sustainable proposition.

Currently there are only two polysilicon manufacturing units in India of total capacity 140 tonnes per annum (TPA) while a 15,000 metric tonnes per year (MT/year) manufacturing base would be needed to meet the future objectives. The Indian electrical grid with its voltage fluctuations and interruptions in power supply poses many challenges to the operation of polysilicon plants. Due to the high cost of debt in India, the highly capital intensive polysilion manufacturing may not prove to be cost competitive globally. The JNNSM document recommends low interest rate loans and priority sector lending for manufacturing to achieve the installed capacity targets.

Ingot/wafer

The ingot/wafer manufacturing capacity in India stands today at less than 10MW, while the requirement at the end of this decade is 2,000MW per year. Traditionally, the industry could not sustain growth in India due to the lack of response from the electronics industry. Ingot/wafer manufacturing is also highly capital intensive. Cost of material such as polysilicon accounts for more than 50% of ingot/wafer production costs. Hence with the lack of competitive polysilicon availability, ingot/wafer manufacturing is not a sustainable proposition for any company thinking of setting up an independent ingot/wafer manufacturing facility in India.

Solar cells

Foreign firms, which have the scale and ability to sell solar gear at competitive rates, are likely winners in the solar cell market.

Photovoltaic (PV) cell manufacturing includes various gases and chemicals that are all currently imported with very little supply from within India. Furthermore, all machinery for manufacturing of PV cells is also imported into India. Solar cell manufacturing also requires a high quality and uninterrupted power supply, which has been a problem for India. Installation of back-up power plants increase the capital cost requirements and also leads to higher operating costs, thus reducing the competitiveness of such manufacturing units.

Foreign firms such as Suntech and First Solar, which have the scale and ability to sell solar equipment at competitive rates, are likely winners as this market grows, along with Taiwan’s Motech Industries, which has signed a cell supply deal with India’s Solar Semiconductor. Many companies in India such as Tata BP Solar and Moser Baer Photo Voltaic Ltd are also bullish on their plans to increase solar cell manufacturing capacities in India.

Solar PV modules

With a current base of around 700MW, the growth to the required 3,000MW per year by 2012 seems probable. The growth dampeners, however, are the lack of local availability of consumables and machinery. Currently even simple module components such as junction boxes and aluminum frames are imported for module manufacturing in India. The module manufacturing is a very fragmented business with many small players joining in due to low setup costs, increasing local demand and ease of technology implementation. With growth of module manufacturers in India due to the mandated local content requirement, module making machinery and equipment will be in great demand and that has to be imported, because there are no local suppliers. The beneficiaries are US firms such as Spire, which sell the equipment to make solar modules.

Balance-of-system (BoS) components

Currently even simple module components such as junction boxes and aluminum frames are imported for module manufacturing in India.

The total requirement of inverters would increase to 2,000MW per year in the next 10 years as solar thermal applications would also need inverters. There are very few local companies that supply inverters. As most off-grid applications would need batteries to store and regulate power, the requirement of battery capacity would be nearly 200MW per year.

Apart from inverters and batteries, other electronic systems such as self-monitoring and data collection will also be very important. In terms mechanical and mounting support, material is required to approximately 5,000 MT/year. Proven developers of these system components and software from Europe and the US will benefit in the interim, because it is unlikely that new local entrants in this field will be adopted soon enough by the solar project developers in India.

Skills and capabilities

India needs a wide base of services and infrastructure that will be essential for maintenance of solar systems especially in off-grid applications. Also marketing and sales capabilities are necessary to promote and create acceptance for solar energy as an energy alternative. It’s important for those providing products to the solar industry in India to understand customer requirements. And for the sake of sustainability, after-sales services must be developed. Furthermore, companies providing broad-based services in the areas of electronics, cables, inverters, batteries, monitoring systems, etc will be required. Local R&D support will also be required to develop innovative solutions that are more cost effective and user friendly.

Astonfield Renewable Resources is an example of a US-based company that gets almost all of its business from India and has recently won contracts to build three plants totaling 21MW of solar power and worth $140 million in total. Due to the lack of technical know-how and technology advancements for now, companies such as Astonfield are jumping in to secure contracts to build solar power plants in India.

Written by Nilesh Jadhav, Contributing Editor – India

Courtesy: Solar Novus

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