Author: PV-Tech

DNV GL launches mobile solar test lab for India

Independent energy advisory and certification body DNV GL has launched its first mobile laboratory service for the on-site testing of PV modules across India.

The Solar Lab offers on-site Flash test/I-V curve measurement and electroluminescence (EL) testing for client’ PV modules. Such tests usually have to be conducted in a stationary laboratory, which can include transportation risks, so the mobile lab aims to save both time and cost. It will also provide post-delivery-pre-installation and post-installation quality assurance of modules.

The on-site testing also allows investors to detect transport-related damage when the modules arrive on site which otherwise would not be possible, while for operating projects, on-site measurements can assist in determining the sources of module performance issues.

DNV GL has claimed in a release that this will also be India’s first mobile PV testing lab to use an advanced A+/A+/A rated LED flasher that can conduct tests with lab-grade accuracy.

Indian firm Mahindra Susten was the first company to introduce a mobile solar lab to the Indian market in September 2017, after reporting significant performance drops in many third-party PV projects.

Ever since India introduced new standards for module testing, the country has been lacking in test labs, so the news will be welcomed by the government.

Nicolas Renon, EVP, APAC at DNV GL – Energy said: “We predict in our 2018 Energy Transition Outlook that primary energy consumption of solar PV in India will increase from 0% in 2016 to 24% by 2050. The on-site Solar Lab will support the demands of the rapidly growing solar market, further empowering developers and financiers to identify secure solar investments and accelerate India’s energy transition.”

Major certification body the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) recently recognised TUV Rheinland’s PV testing laboratory located in Bangalore, India, meaning the lab is now authorised to conduct testing of solar modules.

PV IndiaTech 2019 is the latest addition to PV Tech’s acclaimed series of bespoke, high-quality, global solar PV events. PV IndiaTech will bring together all the key domestic and overseas stakeholders, including government bodies, investors, and the leading companies today from manufacturing to O&M and asset management. To thrive globally as a major PV power beyond 2020, India has to succeed in unlocking its potential both to manufacture and to lay claim to quality utility-scale solar farms that are providing high returns on investment to site owners.

Himalayan solar to the plains of Punjab: Assessing 23GW in Ladakh

Ladakh is one of the most inaccessible places on earth. Cut off by snow for more than seven months of the year, deep into the Indian Himalayas and bordering both Pakistan and China, with its capital city Leh at 3,500 metres altitude, this corner of Jammu & Kashmir state makes any kind of large-scale infrastructure a daunting prospect. Just ask the Indian Border Roads Organisation what it is like to battle avalanches, glacier melts and mudslides across several of the highest motorable passes in the world. Making up for its access issues, however, Ladakh also has perhaps the best conditions for solar power in the whole of India; dry and cold with unblemished blue skies. With its recent 10GW of solar linked with PV manufacturing tender somewhat of a damp squib, India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy is under pressure to get the wheels moving again to meet the demands of a vast number of interested investors who piled into the solar space in the last three years and come closer to the 100GW by 2022 target. Although major Ladakh PV plans have been touted in the past, MNRE has now said it wants to bring out a 7.5GW tender by 15 December on the march to an overall 23GW target in the region.

The plans are still tentative with both the locations of the first 5GW and 2.5GW solar zones as well as the substations still under discussion by Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI), MNRE and Indian PV players. Last week, a spokesperson for SECI told PV Tech that it envisions project developers entering into joint ventures with transmission line developers to evacuate the power into more power hungry regions in Kashmir and North India, but he stressed that tender documents have not been finalised. If the government stays true to SECI’s original announcement then we should have the final tender issued this week.

As it stands, Phase-I would include 2.5GW of solar in Zangla region of Kargil with a transmission line to be built all the way to New Wanpoh in Kashmir, which is south of the capital Srinagar. The remaining 5GW of PV would be set up in the Pang region of Leh district with the transmission line to be built across a colossal distance to Hisar in Haryana to the northwest of New Delhi.

Extreme solar

Let’s start with the positives: the conditions of Ladakh are nigh on perfect for solar module performance, with clear blue skies throughout much of the year, with high altitude giving strong irradiation. The altitude also keeps temperatures cool and there’s little humidity even in mid-summer. However, the temperatures do drop to extreme and icy lows, making Ladakh worthy of its nickname ‘Little Tibet’. There also more unique issues highlighted in our ’Engineer’s view’ later in this article.

PV IndiaTech 2019 is the latest addition to PV Tech’s acclaimed series of bespoke, high-quality, global solar PV events. PV IndiaTech will bring together all the key domestic and overseas stakeholders, including government bodies, investors, and the leading companies today from manufacturing to O&M and asset management. To thrive globally as a major PV power beyond 2020, India has to succeed in unlocking its potential both to manufacture and to lay claim to quality utility-scale solar farms that are providing high returns on investment to site owners.

On the other hand, the Manali-Leh highway, connecting the Indian foothills in Himachal Pradesh to this extremely remote enclave of mountain desert, is one the few access points to Ladakh and one of the most dangerous roads on the planet with the Rotang pass particularly picking up an ominous reputation. However, this is not the only access route as Zoji-La also connects Ladakh to Kashmir. Every spring, traveller forums buzz with tip-offs about when the various passes will open and rumours spread about the earliest ever openings in recent years. What we can say at least is that access is unpredictable.

“It’s quite clear that MNRE is being forced to come out with new ideas to spur activity in the sector, given all the problems that we are facing on land acquisition, transmission connectivity, reducing the cost of power etc.,” says Vinay Rustagi, managing director of consultancy firm Bridge to India. “My first thought is it’s a pretty radical idea, but on paper, Ladakh is excellent for solar power, because it’s got excellent irradiation and low temperatures so in theory, it is the perfect place for setting up a solar power project. The added benefit is that it has got plenty of land; land availability is not a challenge in Ladakh.”

The easy acquisition of land will be high on MNRE’s mind, says Rustagi. Indeed, Rahul Munjal, chairman of prominent Delhi-based developer Hero Future Energies said earlier this year: “I’ve always maintained the toughest thing about doing renewables in India is land”.

The projects would also be an opportunity to generate jobs in Leh and the Ladakh region, while also adding to development efforts in Jammu & Kashmir, which is a politically important region in India, adds Rustagi.

“So there are these multiple objectives that they are trying to combine and achieve by using the single task of developing projects over there.”

Nonetheless, there are still uncertainties around how many bidders can win the capacity and how transmission duties would be shared among multiple bidders.

Rustagi says it is likely that SECI wants the power transmitted to the substation in Haryana to be supplied to Delhi NCR whereby it could be bought and dispersed by distribution companies (Discoms) anywhere in North India across Haryana, Punjab, Delhi and so on.

The tender structure in terms of how the transmission is accommodated will be a challenge, adds Rustagi, again noting the extremely long distances and time that would be required to set up the necessary transmission links.

Engineer’s view

Advisory and engineering firm Gensol Group had already put together a feasibility analysis of setting up solar in the Ladakh. They found a capacity utilisation factor of 25.44% at a test site in Ladakh showed a “clear edge” of 1-2% in performance gain over and above other test sites in Neemuch in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, which are both known to have some of the best irradiation in India.

However, Gensol listed a range of problems to overcome, with not just practical project considerations but also safety very high on the agenda in such an extreme location:

  • Undulated land pattern poses aligning and construction challenge
  • Disturbed soil pattern poses a design challenge
  • Higher wind speeds as areas identified are generally vast and deserted
  • Low population density, hence, the area is deprived of basic necessities
  • Water supply is a crucial aspect from both survival and maintenance perspectives
  • Power during construction will prove out to be expensive and scarce
  • Skilled manpower not available locally and bringing skilled manpower is cost intensive

In antithesis to the solar park idea, Gensol said that smaller portable solar installations combined with diesel would be preferred in this region. The population already relies heavily on diesel power. Gensol also said government support for ensuring safety would be imperative. Importantly, given MNRE’s idea to link transmission with solar development in the new plan, Gensol had also previously said that it would be important to treat transmission and distribution as an individual project as it would have its own set of challenges.

Using trackers was also recommended as it could increase yield by 4%.

Ultimately, for non-solar parks, projects would only be feasible if the transmission cost is subsidised, said Gensol. Meanwhile, the solar park model turned out to be beyond feasibility even if the transmission costs were subsidised.

It’s clear that SECI will have to come out with very attractive tender parameters that clear up some of these problems. It appears both a drastic but exciting proposition, that has a whole new set of complications compared to standard solar parks across India. If the projects go ahead, one can only hope that those working on the projects far up on high will maintain as much humour as the India Border Roads Organisation:

PV IndiaTech 2019 is the latest addition to PV Tech’s acclaimed series of bespoke, high-quality, global solar PV events. PV IndiaTech will bring together all the key domestic and overseas stakeholders, including government bodies, investors, and the leading companies today from manufacturing to O&M and asset management. To thrive globally as a major PV power beyond 2020, India has to succeed in unlocking its potential both to manufacture and to lay claim to quality utility-scale solar farms that are providing high returns on investment to site owners.

Azure Power sole bidder again in India’s 10GW solar and manufacturing auction

Solar Energy Corporation of India’s (SECI) 10GW solar tender combined with 3GW of manufacturing has once again received a poor response from the industry with only local developer Azure Power submitting a bid.

The tender has been through mutliple delays and rethinks, with SECI having to converse with the industry to try to make the tender parameters more attractive for bidders, including a recent 10 paise hike on the proposed tariff.

Sources told PV Tech that Azure Power’s bid was for a 2GW project on a single site as well as 600MW of manufacturing capacity. 

Azure has raised more than US$400 million from equity and debt financings since 30 June 2018.

SECI’s hybrid wind and solar auction has also played out today.

Uttar Pradesh launches 200MW solar park tender

Uttar Pradesh New and Renewable Energy Development Agency (UPNEDA) has issued a request for selection (RfP) for a 200MW solar park to be awarded through competitive bidding.

The power produced from the winning projects will be sold to the distribution company UPPCL or to third-parties under the open access scheme. The minimum project size will be 50MW and the maximum 200MW.

The deadline for submissions is 10 December this year.

Uttar Pradesh drew lowest bids of more than 3 rupees per unit for its latest 500MW solar auction in October, but these were still significantly lower than tariffs from its 1GW auction that was annulled over the summer.

Indian solar deployment to decrease by 55% in 2018/19, but rooftop PV shines

India is expected to deploy just 4.1GW of solar in FY2018/19, down 55% year-on-year and roughly a quarter of the government’s annual target of 16GW, according to the latest report from consultancy firm Bridge to India.

The ‘India Solar Compass Q3 2018’ revealed that India added 1.2GW of utility-scale solar capacity in Q3 2018, and 1.9GW in the first half of FY2018-19, down 43% and 44% over respective periods last year.

In Q3 2018, Softbank (400MW) and Acme (300MW) led capacity additions, while one state dominated with 55% of deployment located in the northern state of Rajasthan.

India’s total PV capacity has now reached 27.4 GW as of 30 September, with 23.2GW of utility-scale, 3.4GW of rooftop solar and 0.8GW off-grid solar.

Despite the overall slowdown, Bridge to India cited the rooftop market as a “bright spot”, growing 70% annually and benefitting from a 30% fall in module prices in the last nine months.

Vinay Rustagi, managing director, Bridge to India, said: “The Indian solar market has grown spectacularly over last four years but is struggling to sustain [that growth] because of policy and execution challenges. The slowdown is worrying for all stakeholders. We are witnessing increasing volatility in tender issuance, auctions and capacity addition because of poor coordination between different government agencies and constraints in transmission capacity and land acquisition. MNRE has not helped matters by failing to decisively address GST and safeguard duty issues. Arbitrary ceiling tariffs and poor tender design have resulted in tenders getting routinely cancelled and/or undersubscribed. As a result, gap between tenders issued and auctions completed has been widening in the last year. Our revised best-case estimate for solar capacity by March 2022 is 67GW, well short of the 100GW target unless decisive remedial steps are taken immediately.”

The sector is also suffering from financing challenges.

India’s NTPC tenders for another 1.2GW of solar

Indian state-run utility NTPC has issued a tender for 1.2GW of solar PV to be connected to the national grid (ISTS) through NTPC generating switchyards in Western Region.

The open category projects will be under a build, own and operate (BOO) basis. The deadline for receipt of technical bids is 19 December 2018.

India’s tendering activity has hit major roadblocks of late, for example with Solar Energy Corporation of India’s (SECI) 10GW solar / 3GW manufacturing tender being delayed several times as it tries to rework the tender parameters to make it more appealing to developers. Most reccently, it raised the ceiling tariffs for its hybrid wind and solar projects tender to INR2.70/kWh, and for the manufacturing-linked projects tender to INR2.85/kWh.

The Indian PV sector has been struggling with the fall of the Indian rupee and is now facing significant financing challenges, according to consultancy firm Bridge to India.

Back in August, the lowest bid quoted in NTPC’s auction for 2GW of ISTS-connected solar was INR2.59/kWh, quoted by Acme Solar for 600MW. The power giant has also recently released large floating solar and hybrid tenders in Kerala and Karnataka, respectively.

India and Taiwan fail to reach agreement on solar safeguard duty – WTO

Trade delegations from India and Taiwan have failed to reach an agreement in a dispute regarding India’s safeguard duty on solar cell and module imports from developed countries as well as China and Malaysia, according to a World Trade Organisation (WTO) filing dated 2 November.

The filing stated: “Nevertheless, India and the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu have agreed to continue these discussions and that their reciprocal rights and obligations under the Safeguards Agreement and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994 will be maintained.”

Taiwan took up India at the WTO by requesting consultations back in September, claiming to have “a substantial interest” as an exporter of the affected solar products.

Malaysia has also taken India up at the WTO on the safeguard duty which was imposed in late July.

The safeguard duty has seriously impacted India’s solar progress with consultancy firm Bridge to India’s latest release stating that “long-term outlook for the sector is looking decidedly downbeat” mainly for internal reasons. These include the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy’s (MNRE) failure to address uncertainties around the GST tax issue as well as the safeguard duty. It also noted problems with low ceiling prices for auctions and tender designs, which have caused a spate of little or no-show tenders, where many potential bidders have been put off and stayed away.

Azure Power commissions 95MW solar project in Gujarat

Indian solar developer Azure Power has commissioned a 95MW solar power plant in Gujarat as the first phase of a 260MW capacity award from the distribution company Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Ltd (GUVNL) .

The project, won in an auction held in September 2017, was completed around 5 months ahead of the scheduled PPA operation date and this was also Azure’s fastest commissioning of a large-scale plant so far. It has a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with GUVNL at a tariff of INR 2.67/kWh (~US$3.9 cents).

Inderpreet Wadhwa, founder, chairman and CEO, Azure Power said: “With the early commissioning of this plant we have set a new record for the company on delivering projects ahead of schedule, once again demonstrating our strong project development, engineering, and execution capabilities. We are pleased to start selling lowest cost solar power in the state of Gujarat, approximately 23% cheaper than the recent average pooling price of power in the state, thus contributing towards the realization of our Hon’ble Prime Minister’s commitment towards clean and green energy, through solar power generation.”

Skills gap holding back global decentralised renewable energy sector

The distributed renewable energy (DRE) sector, necessary in a world with millions of people without power, is being held back by a chronic shortage of skilled workers. Indeed, Sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) has just 16,000 people working in renewable energy in a region with 600 million un-electrified people, according to the founders of a new campaign aiming to fill this skills gap.

A global coalition this week launched #PoweringJobs, a multi-year campaign aimed at creating the new energy skills and jobs needed to provide access to cheap, reliable, and clean energy for all. The coalition, backed by Schneider Electric Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation, is made up of multilateral organizations, educational and training institutions, global energy companies, civil society groups, researchers and more.

While demand is growing for home solar kits, mini-grids and energy-efficient appliances across rural Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America, the campaign coordinator, Power for All, has said that there is also a growing shortage of job-ready talent. The dearth of skilled workers exists all across the DRE value chain, including manufacturing and assembly, sales, marketing and financing, and installation and services. It’s an especially big problem in remote, rural areas where lack of energy access gaps and joblessness are most severe.

A representative from UK-based off-grid solar specialist BBOXX, which has targeted many countries across Africa with its solar home system offering, told PV Tech that in-market competency shortages are among its main business challenges at present, by virtue of the locations in which BBOXX operates. (see Boxout below for market specific problems).

A Power For All spokesperson told PV Tech that Sub-Saharan Africa will be a key focus of the campaign given that this region has the biggest energy access gaps, the fewest trained workers and the biggest opportunity to use DRE to spur clean energy and new jobs, especially in rural areas.

He added: “The most immediate priority is pulling together better data on current employment in the DRE sector, job growth trends and where there are gaps, both geographically and in specific skill sets.

“A second key priority is identifying workforce training initiatives that are working in helping to propel distributed renewable energy efforts forward. India is a good example of this. India’s Skill Council for Green Jobs, launched as part of Prime Minister Modi’s massive national solar push, has already created 450 job training centres in seven states across the country and more than 30,000 solar PV installers have been certified.”

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has also estimated that off-grid renewables for energy access could create at least 4.5 million jobs by 2030. However, Power For All told PV Tech that IRENA’s numbers could be conservative. The ILO has estimated that India alone could add 3 million new jobs if the renewable energy sector continues with its current growth trajectory.  

Vocational training will become an essential part of the off-grid and decentralised energy revolution. For example, supported by the campaign, French energy management firm Schneider Electric has set a 2025 objective to train one million people in energy skills in countries where energy access is very low.

Kweku Yankson, global head of HR at BBOXX, said:  “As we expand into new markets, a key potential constraint to our success is the quality of talent we find in these markets. This is particularly important in markets where local regulations limit the number of foreign/expat talent that companies are allowed to hire. We have a raft of solutions to this challenge, including competency development via the BBOXX Academy, job rotation via our mobile workforce programme (which allows us to rotate our pool of talent across different markets) etc.”

“#PoweringJobs will focus on ensuring that skills and training are at the center—not the margins—of international and national development policies related to energy access,” added Kristina Skierka, CEO of Power for All.

The campaign will conduct an annual energy access jobs survey to understand current employment, job growth trends, and to identify gaps in workforce formation. The survey will eventually provide a global picture of energy access jobs (direct, indirect and induced), and serve as a tool for attracting additional investment in skills building. The first findings will be released in H1 2019.

When asked what governments could do to alleviate the skills shortage, BBOXX’s Yankson said: “Considering the importance of our sector to the achievement of national electrification and poverty-reduction goals (Togo being an example of the impact that businesses like ours can have on electrification at scale), we’d like governments to review, together with us, the core, in-market talent/capability gaps that stand in the way of rapid deployment of solutions for off-grid communities. We would like to see such a review lead to policies that aim to develop these capabilities in such a way as to make it more effective for companies in our sector to deploy and operate without some of the talent constraints that we’re currently facing. This will require a long-term commitment of resources, and a focused/data-driven approach.”

Kweku Yankson, global head of HR at UK-based off-grid solar specialist BBOXX explains market specific skills shortages in Sub-Saharan Africa:

  1. In our Rwanda market, for example, it has been challenging to find a host of key competencies at “job-ready” level. The most pressing challenge has been around finding very capable and experienced managing directors and senior finance managers. This is a function largely of the fact that Rwanda has few large multinational companies (MNCs) of the kind that typically train staff very well (and that, as a result, contribute to the building of large pools of job-ready talent in-market). Here our main rural area challenge has been in convincing talent to relocate from large cities such as Kigali and Musanze to rural areas to take up retail shop roles. To address this, we’ve put in place a number of incentives (e.g. relocation support and shop rotations) to make the transition to rural areas easier for staff.
  2. In Kenya, which is a much larger market with a very significant MNC representation (and a more mature educational system), it’s easier to find very capable talent at all levels. The main limitation we’ve faced in Kenya, however, has been the cost of talent; the very best talent in some parts of Kenya, particularly in Nairobi, tends to be very expensive, due largely to the fact that MNCs (e.g. Microsoft, Cisco etc) pay very well. NGOs also tend to pay very well across East Africa, which distorts the market pay rates quite a bit.
  3. In the parts of DR Congo from which we operate (e.g. Goma), we’ve had very significant challenges finding very capable talent, particularly at the senior management level (across most functional areas). While we have a strong team in place in DRC, the bulk of which comprises DRC citizens from the Goma area, we’ve had to invest significant amounts of time in training to bring our team to the level required to move the business forward.
  4. In Togo, where 100% of our team is local/Togolese, and where there is a decent MNC representation (e.g. Bollore etc), we haven’t had the kinds of talent acquisition challenges that we’ve had in markets like Rwanda.

Power For All Fact Sheet:

  • 38 jobs are created in the solar-lighting industry for every 10,000 lights sold; this part of the sector alone could create 2 million jobs
  • Bangladesh’s solar home system industry has already created 127,000 direct jobs, while India’s employs 72,000 people
  • An additional 50-100% more jobs are created indirectly for each direct job in the decentralized renewables industry
  • Reliable, affordable and rapidly available power from DRE boosts output for small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs); in Africa SMEs account for 80% of employment
  • Mobisol estimates that 15,000 of its customers who use their systems for business create around US$5 million per year in additional income, while solar mills in Zambia are expected to create 3,000 jobs
  • In India 70% of micro-businesses signed up to mini-grid services reported an increased number of customers, and 80% plan to expand their business because of access to reliable energy

Karnataka awards 350MW of solar capacity to Giriraj Renewables and Asian Fab Tec

Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Limited (KREDL) has awarded 150MW (3x50MW) of solar projects to Giriraj Renewables at a tariff of INR2.92/kWh (US$0.04), and awarded 100MW (5x20MW) to Asian Fab Tec with a tariff of INR2.89/kWh (US$0.039).

The off-taker for all the projects will be BESCOM. Asian Fab Tec’s five projects are spread across different talukas. Originally 200MW of capacity had been tendered, but only 100MW has been allotted so far.

Giriraj’s 150MW capacity at the Pavagada Solar Park was tendered back in July. Giriraj recently won 50MW capacity in Uttar Pradesh and 300MW in Gujarat.

Indian state-run power giant NTPC recently issued a tender for 60MW wind and 130MW solar hybrid energy project on a turnkey basis at its super thermal power station NTPC-Kudgi in Karnataka.

© Solar Media Limited