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Interaction | November 2014

Why the fuss over solar panel imports?

Equipment manufacturers cannot thrive on their inefficiencies, and developers should be free to source the modules at their will and ease, says DT Barki, Director (Technical), Photon Energy Systems Ltd.

The government of India has let the deadline lapse on the proposed imposition of anti-dumping duties on cells and modules manufactured in China, Taiwan, Malaysia and the Unites States. How do you see this move? Was it a surprise?
No, it was not a surprise to me, at least. Nor, I think, it has surprised many in the solar industry. There are ongoing solar projects that have been planned with 'cheap' solar modules from China/Taiwan. So, even the government wanted to give some kind of breather to those project developers to complete the projects without hiccups. I think it's a first baby step by the new NDA government to show its solidarity to the industry than really boosting it today.

In hindsight, why should India make a fuss on importing solar panels if they are available at much lower price than any Indian manufacturer? Why should anyone buy at a higher rate when they are available at very competitive price from elsewhere? Why have Indian companies (or companies in other countries) failed to manufacture solar cells and modules at the cost that China and/or Taiwan are producing? Is it right to impose people to buy costly materials inland when they are available at much lower prices elsewhere? Let me answer.

The trade related to cleantech or renewable energy cannot be viewed in isolation, as it is a global matter. We need to understand this in the first place. Globally-talked climate change issues should not and cannot be discussed in seclusion. A country that 'pollutes' more harms other countries as well. So, the cleantech policies have to be globally addressed. And, that's what is the underlying fact of the lapse of AD. This said, we have to be careful in utilising global resources. For example, use of coal, oil, iron ore, etc., has to be controlled by the world body if we have to check the environmental degradation globally.

If we have to become a global leader, we have to address the global issues. You cannot talk about globalisation with a myopic eye of nationalism. Lapsed AD supports this view; at least, now. Instead of patronising inefficient manufacturing companies within the country allow most competitive companies overseas and pave way for true globalisation.

Do you think that the move has again increased the chances of a "face-off" between solar developers and manufacturers?
As already mentioned, manufacturers cannot sit and thrive on their inefficiencies. Ditto for government offices! After all, we, as a responsible State in the world (which is pitching for UN seat) are interested in reducing the cost of generation than talking about the cost of EPC. Let us face the harsh realities than creating false 'security' just as an ostrich does. Developers should be free to source the modules at their will and ease. And, I don't see a state of "face-off" between the developers and manufacturers. Otherwise, how can you explain the 'funny' situation that prevails in our solar industry in the country where the solar PV module manufacturers-cum-EPC players themselves 'shop' in China keeping their so-called module facility idle?

Do you think that India's solar industry is collectively breathing a sigh of relief that a disaster has been averted and the projects that were stalled can can now re-start?
Absolutely. However, it must be noted that major chunk of solar business comes from NSM-led solar projects. Besides, NTPC's tenders for megawatt solar plants wherein indigenous solar modules are mandatory. AD helps the private project developers that form a small portion of the overall projects.

How optimistic are you on future prospects, as we have not seen any movement in the industry since the deliberate lapse of AD?
As project funding has been a major stumbling block for the pervasive success of solar power projects, AD comes to throw in a lesser impact in the overall growth scenario in India.

Shall we call this as a pragmatic, 'big picture' decision by the new NDA administration which will remove uncertainty and put the solar industry back on track for sustainable, long-term growth? Or have they just averted the wrath of solar developers overlooking demands of solar PV manufacturers?
This, indeed, is a good question. While I have to praise the new NDA government's stand on the solar industry, I must acknowledge the immense contribution of the erstwhile UPA govt to have given a fillip to the solar industry through its ambitious JNNSM program, though it has left its own loose ends. Given the penchant for solar promotion by the vibrant Prime Minister, yes, we can call this as a 'promising' - not pragmatic yet - 'big picture' decision by the new NDA administration.

While his much publicised 'Make in India' campaign is laudable, much of his uplifting actions towards those who are already "Making in India" is yet to be seen. Unless the existing manufacturers revive from their financial crisis the solar industry can only be on the 'back track' than being 'back on track'.

How will the lapse of AD help to scale up solar power projects in India? To what extent you think it can go up to?
Frankly, much of the answer to this question has been brought out in the earlier questions. However, to put it simply, lapse of AD is just a balm on the bruise, much is yet to come to really scale up solar projects in India.

Unless our Indian manufacturers compete with Japanese quality and Chinese price I don't see the Indian solar industry soar in the foreseeable future. Given the mood and need, India can achieve 30 GW by 2022. But given the weed and greed in the country, it's a big 'if' we could pull off with the originally planned 20GW!

-Rahul Kamat

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