There is no solar manufacturers´ association worth its mettle to bring all the firms to unite and help sharpen government policies towards result-oriented implementation, says DT Barki, Director (Technical), Photon Solar.
The government has been steadily moving away from Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) and placing more emphasis on Solar Photovoltaic (PV) technology. Going by global trends, will PV triumph over CSP in the long run? Solar PV, as compared to CSP, is a proven and more time-tested technology in India. Solar PV technology is better understood and is more familiar on all aspects of technology, engineering and field deployment for over three decades. Solar PV is a natural choice not only in India but in the world as a whole.
With hindsight, we can say the comparison of any energy source is incorrect. Like a fruit-basket, we should serve the world with an 'energy basket' that contains all form of energies in an appropriate proportion.
The cost of the technology and technology obsolescence continue to plague Solar PV. Is there any improvement likely in the scenario in the near future? It is true that there is not much technology advancement in crystalline solar PV, except in its engineering design and developments. That said, it is also true that the crystalline silicon solar PV technology is most reliable and field tested. With the module efficiency levels touching 16.5 per cent for 80-90 per cent of sales (balance with as high as 19-21 per cent module efficiency by Sharp, Japan and Sunpower, USA), solar power generation is already coming close to conventional energy power generation in terms of grid parity, thanks to continuous improvement and resulting excellence in EPC practices. In fact, it is believed that with the increasing cost of coal-based power generation, it is solar parity, not grid parity, that conventional energy sources have to match.
Like computers or cell phones, new versions are a daily phenomena. Any given version is suitable for that time. Similarly, while solar technology is now at its best, we can expect newer versions; there are many technologies in the offing, in the near future.
A few Indian manufacturers have been predicting dire consequences for the Indian solar manufacturing sector if India does not impose anti-dumping duties. What is your view on this situation? It's true. With many Chinese solar manufacturers with huge infrastructure to mass produce, no solar PV manufacturing company in the world, let alone Indian module companies, can match the prices. We are talking about the Tier-1 Chinese solar companies who maintain high quality at lowest possible prices. It's therefore, tough for any Indian company to compete with a Chinese company in every which way. If Indian manufacturers have to survive, imposition of anti-dumping duties is the only way out. Otherwise, on the global front, allowing international competition has its own benefits to the global ecology, which must be the priority.
It has been said that manufacturers in the Indian solar PV industry suffer from an excessive export focus and they often neglect the local market. What is your view? It's not far from the truth. But it's a thing of the past. When there was a German solar boom (until 2007-08), every Indian solar company metamorphosed to become 100 per cent EOU and enjoyed export benefits. When Germany (and also other European countries) recoiled from solar programs, all the Indian solar companies fell like a pile of cards. And they have not been able to recover since then.
A well-drafted JNNSM in conjunction with NVVN, was supposed to uplift the Indian PV scenario. But the policy paralysis coupled with weak implementation which led to the withering of the otherwise most ambitious National Solar Mission; which instead of becoming like a well-orchestrated musical symphony, it turned out to be a cacophony leading to the Indian solar debacle.
Nevertheless, the solar market within India is huge. With strong political will expected out of the new Government with a penchant for the solar energy portfolio, India's energy security is expected to improve while reviving the Indian solar companies.
With a view to expand the domestic PV supply chain, is there enough intra-industry co-operation going on currently? No. Indian solar PV manufacturers do not function in harmony. There's absolutely no cooperative working among the solar PV manufacturers. There's no solar manufacturers association worth its mettle to bring all the companies to unite and help sharpen the government policies towards result-oriented implementation.
In fact, the Indian PV supply chain has sufficient infra to cope up with substantial module (also solar cells) manufacturing capability. The Government should frame its policies that favour solar PV supply chain that fuel manufacturers at large. We cannot make PV manufacturers go bankrupt and yet expect a solar PV industry boom, as manufacturers form part of the solar PV foundation. Sadly enough, there's no intra-industry co-operation, nor inter-industry co-operation.
Development of solar PV projects has become difficult due to the number of agencies involved, what can the new Government do to remedy the situation? Development of solar PV projects is the real key that bears the success of solar PV technology as a whole. Solar power generation should become the barometer for selecting projects. In other words, solar energy generated per MW should become the performance index coupled with PPA than the EPC cost per se. This would bring tremendous check to multiple agencies while inherently help promoting solar PV manufacturers.
In order to drive home the point, let us look at the aircraft (read solar modules) manufacturing companies vs airline (read EPC companies) companies. Both have different expertise. It's not difficult for Boeing or Airbus, or Bombardier to start an airlines company. But they have not indulged in that. Why? Core technological strength is the key. Airlines industry is a service sector though they have to buy fleet of aircraft. Both sectors should thrive. Government policies should facilitate this. Why is Air India sick while Indigo is thriving? The solar industry is being remote controlled by the government through improper schemes and policies.
When will the industry finally manage to deliver solar PV in a cost-effective way? It's already delivering in a cost-effective way, but the market has failed to recognise it. Reason: Government interference (rather than interaction) with the industry. Half-hearted implementation of subsidy schemes, unsuccessful policies (such as the REC mechanism) among many other ineffective and inefficient policy frameworks have led to the crippling of the solar PV industry.
Left to itself, we are confident that the PV industry will strive and thrive. So, the Government should just do the facilitation job not that of hindrance. When this happens, solar PV will deliver in a most cost-effective way.
In what ways can the financing infrastructure improve for solar PV projects? As solar PV projects are green technology projects their due recognition in terms of clean energy trading should be considered. RECs (or CERs) coupled with appropriate clean energy funding would make solar projects supersede the fossil-fuel based energy technologies. If carbon abatement is not converted into clean funding in the financing infrastructure, solar PV projects will lag behind. Simply put, either impose carbon tax on fossil fuel based energies or allow/provide carbon offset for the solar projects. In such a case, you have already achieved grid parity.
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