Author: PV-Tech

PV IndiaTech Talk: Waaree emerges as Merlin technology champion

During the recent PV IndiaTech 2019 event in Delhi, India during 24-25 April 2019, one of the most interesting presentations was from Waaree Energies. This talk included details on the company’s Merlin based module technologies.

The fact alone that the technology ‘made it’ into mass production is noteworthy, having been one of the US-led high-efficiency schemes proposed several years ago.

The Merlin technology was originally pioneered by GT Advanced Technologies (GTAT) when the company was seeking to find new revenue streams after seeing its DS furnace order book drying up when the Chinese multi ingot producers shifted tool production to local equipment makers in China.

GTAT had several attempts to find new revenues to rescue its operations, including the well-publicized (and ultimately doomed) arrangement with Apple to manufacture sapphire-based display covers for Apple’s iPhone 6, moving into solar mono ingot pulling activities (the ‘HiCz’ technology targeted at n-type production), and bringing to market a novel front-metallization interconnection technology for c-Si cells by the name of Merlin.

GTAT certainly saw the Merlin grid-interconnection technology as being a major game-changer. Back in 2014, GTAT was highly vocal in its projections to tap a $1 billion equipment/revenues based opportunity, as up to 20% of the market move to grids by the end of 2018. Chapter 11 bankruptcy and the pending restructuring of GTAT from the end of 2014 would ultimately quieten all of this euphoria, but not before GTAT had gone public about its first beta customers for the Merlin technology.

One of the partnering module suppliers would turn out to be Indian-based Waaree Energies, as covered here on PV-Tech late 2014.

As such, given the history of the Merlin technology, it was fascinating to see Waaree talk so enthusiastically about their module product – also aptly called Merlin – at the recent PV IndiaTech 2019 event.

Recently, I took to the time to catch up with. Mr. Varun Panchal, Head of Merlin Operations at Waaree, to get an update on how Waaree had been successful in moving this technology into mass production, and if all the claims at the time of the product launch back in 2014, had been justified.

Waaree announced back in 2014 plans to commercialize GTAT’s Merlin technology. How did Waaree manage to implement this into its module production capacity during the past few years?

Varun Panchal, Waaree Energies: “Yes the announcement was made in late 2014 and all the agreements with GTAT were signed in December 2015. To be honest the implementation was kind of a challenge as the manufacturing process was different from the standard one. We started with a capacity of 12 MW/annum and have currently expanded to 15 MW/annum.”

How did this work in terms of implementing the new process equipment in the production line? Was this done through in-house equipment upgrades or the use of new tools?

“Initial stage was very crucial for us as the equipment and processes were quite challenging to handle as it required high precision levels and detailing. However with the help of Merlin team we were able to overcome them quickly. The entire pre-lamination process is different for this technology; the intricacy starts right from tabbing and stringing as it doesn’t employs traditional ribbons and rather uses what we call as front grid, having an interconnected structure of 20 busbars. Further on the rear side it employs a cross linking mesh structure and therefore a special merlin attach tool (MAT tool) is required for tabbing, which was indigenously designed and developed in Japan.” 

How long did it take to move from pilot-line testing to full mass production, and what were the main challenges?

“The pilot line testing began with trials for producing glass-backsheet based modules using Merlin cells. While the results were satisfactory, the full utilization of merlin technology was still at a fair distance. Once the team was efficiently making glass based modules, we started trials for flexible variant. 

After gaining significant knowledge and having enough hands on the technology for few months, the time was ripe that we started manufacturing several variants of flexible modules utilizing different sizes of cells and different designs. The entire process of technology transfer, MAT tool installation & stable operations, trials of product manufacturing and further the reliability testing and certifications took around 1 year.”

Waaree has been pushing the lightweight (flexible) module advantages of using the Merlin technology, but there are other key benefits to moving from standard finger/busbar forming when using Merlin. Are there efficiency benefits also?

“Efficiency more or less remains the same because we employ the similar silicon solar cell technology used in standard modules, whether it be standard BSF or PERC, but at the end of the day one can get up to 20% more energy yield due to the grid structure which efficiently performs under shaded conditions and also is highly resilient to hotspots. There are more than 1500 contact points between the grid and front side of the cell and almost 100 contact points on the rear, which makes them highly reliable and highly redundant towards micro-cracks. So even if the solar cells crack within the module the power degradation is nominal which makes it a highly robust for any harsh application. It has passed TC 1000 cycles with flying colours to further justify the reliability. So it’s a win-win situation for the end user in terms of high performance and high reliability with the Merlin flexible panels.”

In terms of market a segment targeted, is the main focus on rooftops, or is there scope for ground-mounts within India today? On rooftops, where is Merlin most suitable? Waaree has been advocating lightweight panels also for BIPV applications, including EV’s – is this a viable market today or does it still need development?

“Yes it can be used in ground mounted with a standard glass-backsheet structure, but the focus is on the peculiar rooftops, where standard panels cannot be utilized. The panel being flexible gives us the freedom to customise it according to different user requirements, so wherever there is a non-uniform surface or the roof not being able to bare heavy loads, Merlin is the perfect solution. Another unique application that we identified is in refrigerated trucks used for transportation. Usually, one needs to keep the engine running to power the HVAC system for any vehicle. Here, we have developed a solution wherein the reefer unit is powered by a Merlin flexible panel based solar-storage system and we found that the end user can save up-to INR 6 lakhs/year (9000 USD) on fuel. Also, 2 passenger busses and further the entire fleet of bus was solarised and we had found that HVAC system could run for 3 hours while the engine is idle. In cold countries, other than fuel savings, a significant advantage was that jump start were avoided especially during winters. So these are some unique and new applications were this technology can result into significant savings. For India as E-rickshaw is the vastly used EV in the country, we solarised a rickshaw and found up to a maximum of 40% increment in its range on a good sunny day. Considering the current usage of average rickshaw owner these gains are significant to enhance their daily earnings and as a result of that ROI for solarisation in all the above cases is less than a year.”

Moving now to Waaree’s module supply strategy in more detail now, how much is the domestic market taking today? And which overseas markets are the main focus for the rest of 2019 and 2020?

“The uptake in the domestic market has been growing now. We recently inaugurated a 90 KW flexible module based power plant installed on a carpet roof at BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir in Tithal, Gujarat, India. This is the largest flexible panel based power plant in the world. Along with that we have executed almost 15 different rooftop projects in the entire country. For overseas our major portion is covered by US market and have plans to expand our reach in that. We also have plans to focus on European market as we see that to be another huge potential market suitable for Merlin’s various applications.”

Domestic carve-out allocations within India are also promoting cells made within India. Do you see any changes to cell supply for in-house module assembly, over the next couple of years?

With the government pushing to have a complete supply chain of solar PV here in the country, the idea of having a cell supply for in-house module assembly can be considered. However, the cells which are used for merlin module need a special manufacturing setup and further needs specialized tools for grid manufacturing. The technology transfer would further add to the timeline of the entire project. While the demand of merlin solar module in India is on the verge of an exponential rise, we currently tend to bank upon the existing supply chain. However if need be and given the availability of suitable environment, manufacturing the cell and its associated components locally could always be considered. 

Thanks Varun for the updates!

With other equipment suppliers pushing grid-based finger forming across high-efficiency cell/module lines today, the forecast of GTAT back in 2014 that 20% adoption would be seen within 5 years may not seem that crazy after all. Perhaps this point will come in 2021/22, but with a stronger contribution from Chinese-made solutions – something that we are seeing in the market today across various cell/module producers in Asia. It will be fascinating to see what other module-related benefits can be seen then, and how the technology will help for large-scale utility-scale build-outs going forward.

ROUND-UP: JAKS 50MW Vietnam buy, Mono PERC in Belgium, India manufacturing delay, Iran water aid

JAKS MoU to buy 49.5MW Vietnam solar project

14 May: JAKS Resources Bhd has inked a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Vietnam-based LICOGI 13 to acquire a 49.5MW solar project and to form joint ventures for other solar and wind energy projects, according to a stock exchange filing.

The Lig-Quang Tri Solar Power Project (LQT) will come into operation at the end of June 2019 in the central province of Quang Tri, Vietnam.

ReneSola provides 5.4MW of mono-PERC modules to Helexia in Belgium

14 May: ReneSola has signed an agreement to provide 5.4MW of 310W mono-PERC modules to Helexia for deployment on rooftop solar projects in Belgium.

Helexia, an energy equipment and solutions provider, currently operates more than 150 solar plants with a combined power output of 60MW and is enjoying fast growth in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Belgium. 

SECI delays PV manufacturing-linked tender again

14 May: Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) has once again postponed its tender for 3GW of solar linked with 1.5GW of PV manufacturing.

The new deadline for submissions is 31 May this year.

Renewables could solve Iran water scarcity

14 May: Renewable energy plants may help solve water scarcity issues in the Iranian province of Isfahan, according to an official at SATBA.

Iran has suffered from a drought crisis particularly last summer when water scarcity reduced the capacity of electricity generation in some of its power plants, especially Isfahan province.

There were six renewable power plants with total capacity of 15.11MW in Isfahan province by mid-April 2019, including four solar power plants, one small hydropower plant, and one wind power plant operating. 

Surprisingly ‘aggressive’ tariffs in Maharashtra’s 250MW solar auction

Bids have ranged between 2.87-2.91 rupees (U$0.041) per unit in a 250MW solar auction at a challenging location, known as the Dondaicha Solar Park in the state of Maharashtra, India.

Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) issued the tender last October.

The bidding results were as follows:

Bidder Capacity (MW) Tariff (INR/kWh)
Talettutayi Solar (SolarArise) 50 2.87
Tata Power (TPREL) 100 2.88
NTPC 100 (bid for 250) 2.91

Vinay Rustagi, managing director of consultancy firm Bridge to India, told PV Tech: “This is a challenging site – relative lower irradiation, forest land, difficult access – and has high solar park charges. There was limited bidding interest and it is therefore surprising to see tariffs on the aggressive side, all factors considered. “

The capacity has been split into five projects of 50MW each, with plants to be set up on a Build Own Operate (BOO) basis. Power procured by SECI from the projects will be sold to the State Discom Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Co. Limited (MSEDCL).

India’s auction activity has picked up slightly in recent days, with 750MW also awarded in two separate auctions in the state of Gujarat.

Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam (GUVNL)’s 500MW auction at the Raghanesda Solar Park saw French power giant Engie grab 200MW, with two local state-run firms and Tata Power picking up the remaining 300MW. Tariffs ranged between 2.65-2.70 rupees.

Later, GUVNL’s 1GW auction at the Dholera Solar Park saw just 250MW awarded to Tata Power and local state-run firm GIPCL, with tariffs remaining at the ceiling price of 2.75 rupees per unit.

Rustagi has previously said that there is a disappointing trend in India solar at present of low interest in various tenders.

India solar heads cheerful with cross-political support – CEO survey

Most company chiefs in India’s solar space are optimistic about its future growth, according to this year’s ‘India RE CEO Survey’ from consultancy firm Bridge to India.

CEO’s expect 58GW of solar additions over the next five years, split between 47GW of utility-scale solar, 8GW of rooftop PV, and 3GW of floating solar (wind 21GW).

While opinions on large-scale solar additions were evenly spread, the industry has been conservative in its outlook for rooftop PV, with a clear majority (78%) expecting less than 10GW deployment over the five-year period, despite Bridge to India forecasting 18GW of rooftop.

The survey involved 41 Indian and international, EPC, O&M, developer and manufacturing companies, with around half the respondents from India itself. Despite policy reversals and various other operational challenges, 34% of the respondents were very optimistic, 39% were optimistic, and just 7% were not optimistic about the future.

The main challenges listed by leaders, in order of importance, included:

  • offtake risk
  • land acquisition
  • uncertainty in policy environment
  • Discom demand for renewable energy
  • network connectivity
  • debt and equity financing

The long-held view of many in the sector that bids have been irrationally or fairly aggressive has not changed in the last year with more than 90% still believing this to be the case.

Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka were the top three states in terms of ease of doing business, whereas Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana were the hardest states to do business in.

Vinay Rustagi, managing director of Bridge to India, said: “Overall, the survey paints an optimistic picture for renewable energy sector growth. If effective measures for Discom reform and network connectivity are put in place, we can expect much higher capacity additions in the coming years. We also believe that the sector enjoys broad cross-political support and there is unlikely to be retreat irrespective of who forms the government.”

With India in election mode, CEOs also expect any new government to improve business execution and provide policy stability.

PV manufacturing outlooks of those questioned were downbeat after the safeguard duty, manufacturing-linked tenders and the KUSUM and CPSU scheme had failed so far to reignite the domestic sector.

There was a very wide variety of responses on grid-scale energy storage deployment, with 48% of CEO’s believing that it would be below 1GW, and just 23% expecting deployment to go beyond 2GW.

Gujarat awards 500MW in latest solar auction at 2.65 rupees low

The first auction for capacity at the Raghanesda Solar Park in the Indian state of Gujarat was scrapped due to high tariffs, but a second attempt has drawn far lower tariffs.

Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam (GUVNL)’s auction saw French power giant Engie grab 200MW, with two local state-run firms and Tata Power picking up the remaining 300MW. The 700MW tender was disappointingly undersubscribed earlier this week and now just 500MW have been awarded.

High tariffs last December of between 2.84-2.89 rupees from the likes of Softbank, Fortum and Engie, led GUVNL to cancel its first auction, but the Discom then reduced solar park charges to try and attract lower bids in its second attempt.

The results of this second auction were as follows:

Bidder Capacity (MW) Tariff (INR/kWh)
Engie 200 2.65
Gujarat State Electricity Corporation 100 2.68
Gujarat Industries Power Company 100 2.68
Tata Power 100 (bid for 200) 2.70

Tender and auction cancellations in Gujarat have led to some heavyweight firms avoiding the state due to the uncertainties and it remains to be seen whether GUVNL will follow through with its latest auction.

Japan tells India to review solar cell safeguard duties for product clarity

Japan has called on India to immediately review its safeguard duty on imported solar cells to ensure that products that have different characteristics from solar cells are excluded from the measure.

A Geneva trade official told PV Tech that there has been some concern from Japan about products that weren’t exactly falling into the category of the product covered by the safeguard being subjected to the duties. No details on which products are under dispute were provided.

During what was just a one-minute intervention during a World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting, India also said it wanted to discuss the issue bilaterally with Japan.

India brought in safeguard duties on solar cell and module imports from developed countries as well as China and Malaysia in July 2018. They are due to end in August 2020.

India ‘poorly positioned’ to handle growing solar waste

India is unprepared for expected rapid growth in solar PV waste due to a lack of policy framework and guidelines for waste management, according to a new report by consultancy firm Bridge to India.

The ‘Managing India’s PV Module Waste’ report estimates that PV waste volumes will increase to 1.8 million tonnes by 2050, with the country having scaled up installations at breakneck speed from 3GW in 2014 to 28GW in 2018.

Bridge to India has advised that proactive measures are needed, with government and private sector players working together to mitigate the potentially hazardous impacts of such waste on the environment and human health and to maintain sustainable growth in the sector. The country is also said to be lacking the awareness and operational infrastructure required for recycling PV modules.

By comparing international case studies with India’s own e-waste policy, the consultancy has generated a number of recommendations in the report which can be accessed here.

Ultimately, Bridge to India has called for “immediate efforts” to formulate a robust regulatory framework for allocating responsibility and specifying standards for PV waste management.

India’s short-term hurdles won’t stop four-fold PV boom in a decade

Policy headwinds in India will not divert the PV sector from a decade-long path of colossal growth backed by the government, according to Fitch Solutions.

The firm’s latest update predicts Indian PV capacity to ramp up by an average, annual 15.3% between 2018 and 2028, jumping from 26GW to 105.9GW in the period.

The government, Fitch Solutions said, will keep up the momentum through a recipe of “aggressive” growth targets, numerous tenders and policies to unlock investment towards solar.

Thailand, Vietnam imports to sidestep tariffs for China

According to the firm, India’s adoption last year of 25% tariffs for Chinese and Malaysian cells and modules will create uncertainties and costs but these will lessen in the long term.

The duties, Fitch Solutions argued, will likely be scrapped after their two-year expiry date, if it emerges they didn’t succeed in kickstarting a local manufacturing scene able to compete with Chinese imports.

In the interim, the firm continued, plummeting technology costs mean developers can resort to alternative import routes; Thailand and Vietnam, which Chinese manufacturers are expanding to, are already being tapped into.

According to Fitch Solutions, the lack of clarity around the goods and services tax – thought to up PV costs by 5.8% since its roll-out in 2017 – looks set to dispel. Last December’s government clarifications pave the way for developers to negotiate tax reliefs for existing PPAs.

PV’s wish list as India heads to the polls

The Indian PV predictions herald a brighter outlook after a tough 2018, when execution challenges and policy uncertainty sparked a 27.8% drop in installations.

The government – currently in the midst of six-week general elections – has been urged by consultants to “work hard” to restore investor confidence after last year’s “hammering”.

The prediction of Fitch Solutions is that even if prime minister Narendra Modi is not re-elected – in its view, such a scenario is not likely – his successors would respect existing policies to promote renewables.

As the firm noted, the reform set in motion in recent years includes 12GW in installations through the Central Public Sector Undertaking programme, the adoption of renewable power obligations and grid upgrades; Tamil Nadu and other states are adding to the efforts with separate targets and schemes.

PV IndiaTech Talk: Finlay Colville to deliver 1-hour manufacturing seminar

PV Tech can reveal that our head of research, Dr. Finlay Colville, will deliver a one-hour presentation seminar during the forthcoming PV IndiaTech 2019 conference taking place in Delhi on 24-25 April 2019.

The talk – titled Global manufacturing trends, benchmarking: how India competes as a production powerhouse in the PV industry from 2020 onwards – will provide the Indian PV sector with key metrics needed to evaluate the viability of upstream investments demanded under the country’s emerging domestic-content requirement policies.

Ahead of Finlay’s talk – scheduled to close the final day of PV IndiaTech 2019 on 25 April 2019 – PV Tech took the opportunity to chat with Finlay about what to expect from his seminar, and the drivers behind the content and value of such a presentation at the event.

Mark Osborne: Thanks Finlay for taking the time to preview the PV IndiaTech 2019 event, the full details of which were recently covered in a blog on PV-Tech earlier this week. Can you start by explaining what prompted you to undertake a one-hour seminar assignment as part of the agenda over the two days of the event?

Dr. Finlay Colville: Most times at events, my inputs are limited in scope and often confined to specific global PV issues within a 20-30 minute presentation slot. However, this time, a longer and more detailed talk was deemed to be of value due to unique circumstances impacting the whole India PV value-chain today.

During the research our team has undertaken over the past six months, through hundreds of discussions with the entire Indian PV sector – from government bodies, policy-makers, investors, manufacturers, suppliers, site builders and asset owners – it became clear that everyone in India has a fundamental need to understand global technology trends and how changes under the broad Make-in-India initiative will impact component production and site supply during the decade from 2020 to 2030. By 2030, India is likely to have surpassed its long-term aspiration to have more than 300GW of PV deployed and a significant portion of this will involve cells, modules, materials and BoS components that are produced by Indian companies or JV’s involving partnering overseas entities.

Virtually everyone we spoke to asked us what the real technology roadmap of the PV industry would be, which companies were driving the benchmarks for product performance, cost and pricing, and critically what India should invest in to be competitive with product coming out of China.

It therefore seemed important that a one-hour seminar could be of great value at the event, with our research and methodology adopted within the PV-Tech market research team offering an unbiased bottom-up perspective.

Is it simply a case of India adding more cell lines that are based on p-mono PERC, or is it more complicated than this?

In short, it is much more complicated, and way more far-reaching than simply adding a few gigawatts of mono PERC that is now a 50GW+ manufacturing industry installed within China, and where some leading cell makers are intent on adding tens of GW’s of new capacity in the next few years.

The decision-making within India today includes more basic questions such as:

Should the investments covered under DCR policies be confined to cells and modules, or is there a viable roadmap where poly/wafer capacity can have any viability and global significance?
If wafer production is chosen, how does the country possibly compete with leaders such as GCL-Poly and LONGi Solar?
What role does thin-film play, given this is a technology that has seen huge investments in recent years from the industry’s leader First Solar – a company that has huge experience of setting up GW-level fabs globally with efficiency of build and ramp-up.
Should investments be based on having a large number of 500MW to 1GW factories, or is there a need to back a small group of technologies/companies and drive economy-of-scale benefits in 5-10GW operations?
How do the investments translate to having materials supply for cell/module assembly covered under Make-in-India mandates, and what needs to be ringfenced also at the balance-of-systems level?

The key thing India has in its favour here is based on the 300GW by 2030 target, and probably being the lowest-risk 100GW-plus deployment country in the world during the decade from 2020 to 2030. This simple fact means that every major company making, using and owning solar products and assets either has, or will have soon, an India-specific business plan to cover the next 10 years.
Therefore, India does have an incredibly powerful hand to play in setting out the ground rules for what this 300GW will look like, and crucially how it must come to fruition alongside a viable and profitable manufacturing sector.

So while, every solar company globally should be aware of technology trends and price/cost forecasting, India has to quickly be up-to-speed across every segment of its industry, from government advisers thought to IPPs and long-term portfolio owners.
 

There have been many announcement though in the past ten years of JV’s, MoU’s and initiatives, almost all of which have come to nothing. So what is different now?

Yes, there was a time when the announcements were barely worth reading, but in the past 12 months, lots of things have happened that have changed the landscape and relevance of the country for inward investment and domestic-owned capacity expansions.

First, the country now has 25GW-plus of deployed solar capacity, and the stats in terms of cell and module supply do not make happy-reading for many within India, as more than 90% has been imported from China. And a large portion of this has been product that is lower-performing than cells and modules used in other global regions.

Attempts to have anti-dumping and other import tariff based additives placed on overseas origin-of-manufacture have not had any meaningful impact, very similar to every other case of AD-related actions taken within the solar industry.

Crucially, the WTO-compliant DCR carve-out allocations now dominate policy-makers intentions and this changes everything for domestic production within India.

Different today also is that the PV industry has gone through a rapid evolution of high-efficiency and yield-enhancing product availability for utility-scale solar farm deployment. We are now at a time in the growth of PV where simply being the lowest-cost producer of p-multi mono-facial Al-BSF product wins out. And this is driving productivity gains at a rapid rate, and now there is scope for technology differentiation and ASP premiums that are clear winners when forecasting site returns and IRRs to the finance community. Technical due-diligence within the banks is real, and works!

Returning to your one-hour seminar at the event, can you give some teasers as to what you will be covering?

Anyone that has tuned into my online webinars during the past few years will be aware roughly of the topics covered when looking at manufacturing value-chain metrics, and the seminar at PV IndiaTech will broadly follow these guidelines, but focused on “what does this mean for new capacity within India, and how can it compete and be of value to developers and EPCs in the next few years”.

The seminar will start by looking at the likely technology split for module supply globally over the next five years, including some of the factors that drive inflection points in technology availability. This will be followed by going through the c-Si value-chain, from poly to module, explaining the cost benchmarks for both p-multi and p-mono and how this sustains further ASP erosion going forward.

In particular, the talk will focus on the companies that are the drivers behind low-cost manufacturing, for polysilicon, wafers, cells and modules. This is essential today, as this sets the low-cost threshold that everyone is judged against and is the difference between margins being positive or in the red.

The tricky bit comes next and is the question that the entire Make-in-India solar proposition is founded on: how can India prosper when investing in new manufacturing capacity going forward, and how can it compete with China. One can almost forget other countries outside India in terms of benchmarking: everything is about China as the benchmark.

So, one final question. Do you think there will be one clear call-to-action or will the debate rumble on for years to come, in terms of how India adds new capacity and is competitive on the global stage?

The good thing is there is no single route to be competitive going forward, but several. Everything does come back to investor returns and not module ASP or site-build capex. It seems simple and obvious to say, but all too often when solar farms builds kick off in countries, this is not fully implemented.

When you look globally at how utility-scale market evolve, there is a transition point from EPC driven site capex to investor-driven site returns. India would appear to be pending this key inflection point, but the more that completed site builds come under the spotlight in terms of performance ratio reviews, the more likely investors are to have an influence on capex, supplier choice and – importantly – technology selection.

Therefore, whether the offer is p-multi, p-mono PERC or n-type, there are attractive IRRs on offer going forward in the next few years, but in each case, product quality and supplier selection are paramount, and the role of third-party testing labs, factory auditors and independent engineers.

This means there is no binary selection process in terms of technology for new capacity, but more the requirement to focus on being aligned with benchmarks whether n/p type or mono/multi based, or in that matter mono-facial/bifacial, and so on for fixed-axis or tracking.

A few years ago, project development and module selection was weighted largely to p-multi (60 or 72-cell), but globally this has moved dramatically in the past few years. India will make this move in the next 12-18 months, at exactly the point where new manufacturing capacity comes online. As such, it would appear prudent to have knowledge on which technologies will be part of industry supply for utility-use in the next few years, and how each can offer returns to investors, with reliable and predicable yields.

 

The PV IndiaTech 2019 event takes place in Delhi on 24-25 April 2019. Details on how to attend can be found through the event website here.

PV IndiaTech to address the challenges facing the Indian solar sector in its drive to 300GW

Ahead of PV Tech launching its new PV IndiaTech conference, on 24-25 April 2019, in Delhi, I review in this blog what the event is all about, and why the timing of the event has turned out to be perfect as India debates how to create a sustainable manufacturing segment that supplies quality modules to its downstream segments.

The event has been devised by PV Tech, following our successful global upstream conferences PV CellTech and PV ModuleTech.

Factors prompting the decision to hold a dedicated event within India

For the past few years, we have had many requests from the India PV sector, and in fact from many overseas companies seeking to increase their presence in the region, to hold a high-quality focused event in India.

In fact, during the past few years of the PV CellTech and PV ModuleTech events, it became clear that there was an Indian-specific requirement to capture many of the findings from these events as they relate directly to the Indian PV market.

However, towards the end of 2018, and so far in 2019, the announcements from SECI related to DCR carve-out capacity for Make-in-India product (cells and modules) going forward, finally convinced us of the need to hold the inaugural PV IndiaTech event in Delhi on 24-25 April 2019.

There appears to be a strong desire from all stakeholders within India to understand not only the production issues related to manufacturing, but also the impact on site reliability and investor returns.

During the past 6 months, we have been speaking to most of the key stakeholders within the India PV community, from government officials to asset managers. This ultimately guided the scope of the two-day PV IndiaTech agenda but also the companies and speakers on stage.

Outlining the agenda for PV IndiaTech 2019

The two day event is dominated by invited presentations, with some discussion sessions included also.

Day one starts with an inaugural session, where government bodies, such as MNRE, SECI and Invest India, spell out the existing and future landscape for solar within India, with a focus on how manufacturing and new capacity expansions are being supported and prioritised.

This is followed by a session that looks at the India market in more details, including how inward investments are being facilitated, the role of state governments. Among the speakers within this session are Bridge-to-India and Ernst & Young.

Central and state government initiatives and new manufacturing investments

While MNRE/SECI is providing the framework for future domestic content requirement (DCR) carve-out capacity levels, and indeed various other types of domestic manufacturing related investments, there is also new drive from various states to accelerated regional manufacturing bases for cell and module production, including also aspects of the module BoS eco-system such as EVA and backsheets.

There are about 4-5 states that are currently reviewing setting up manufacturing ‘clusters’ that would entail several gigawatts of new cell and module capacity, and possibly module materials production, such as that reported by Maharashtra back in September 2018.

These initiatives are akin to previous efforts to facilitate Indian PV manufacturing across its special economic zones (SEZs), but also are no different to regional manufacturing drivers that permeate most countries. In the solar sphere, US states are often seen to entice companies to set up new manufacturing sites for example; and of course, analogous have to be made to how China’s regional drivers have so dramatically aided upstream capacity expansions there in recent years.

The opportunity created by state involvement within India today, to create regional manufacturing clusters, is interesting from several standpoints. For overseas companies looking to set up manufacturing within India, this route may assist in addressing infrastructure/build issues such as land availability, utility supply and permitting, while also linking some with local parties that wish to bring in financing in some kind of joint venture activity.

The fact that so many of the well-publicized inward investments of recent years, albeit mostly tenuous letters of intent or similar, have not come to fruition is in part due to companies overseas (mainly from China) perhaps not being fully au fait with the intricacies of Indian facilities and construction.

In this respect, the states’ involvements may provide some hand-holding of sorts, making it easier for previous advocated of Make-in-India PV such as LONGi Solar, GCL, Trina Solar and others.

What is interesting however about the involvement of the states is that they effectively become devolved inward-investments umbrellas, and therefore need to be fully aware of what they are potentially getting involved in. From a solar perspective, this involves knowing what to do, and being fully informed about the key metrics driving manufacturing today in the industry.

Examples of effective inward investment

During the last 10 years, I have been fortunate enough to have had numerous discussions with central and devolved government and policy officials globally, on the topic of domestic PV manufacturing and the role of overseas company involvement.

The strategies across these bodies have been very different, with some simply grabbing any short-term opportunity that comes their way, irrespective of the company getting any regional incentive or the technology being deployed. In fact, this also relates to whether the goal has been to establish cell and module assembly facilities, or just final module assembly. This makes a huge difference.

Looking at the results, what has happened in Malaysia stands out by some margin, and much of this can be traced back to the inward investment agency there (MIDA) that put a focus on which companies to back, and to dive into the technologies they were seeking to deploy. This included also the demand to make cells, not simply modules, and to equip the factories with new state-of-the-art equipment, and not simply to ship over used and outdated tools from mothballed sites from the companies HQ regions.

If the various states within India can learn from the MIDA case-study in PV, they will go a long way to succeeding in their goals, but this will require their staff and advisors to go through a steep learning curve. In part, we are hoping that PV IndiaTech 2019 provides them with some facts and figures in terms of benchmarking cost and performance of PV manufacturing, and we have been actively seeking to bring these organizations to the event in Delhi for this purpose.

More on the event agenda

The morning of day one the conference concludes with presentations from some of the leading PV manufacturing companies globally today, spelling out production benchmarks and where they see technology going in the coming years. Talks here come from the likes of LONGi Solar and Meyer Burger.

The afternoon of day one starts with a session focused on existing PV manufacturing within India, and features the market-leaders today for cells and modules, including Adani Solar, Vikram Solar, and Waaree Energies. This session is critical, as these companies are uniquely positioned to comment on how Indian manufacturing can be successful and how the new policies being implemented can be best put into effect. New capacity expansions across cell and modules within India will certainly have strong involvement of domestic companies, not simply from inward investment.

Day one concludes with one of the most asked-for topics of PV IndiaTech 2019: module quality, certification, reliability and bankability.

Discussions over the past year with Indian companies (in particular developers, EPCs, IPPs, and site owners) routinely comes back to the issue of module quality and reliability. While not uncommon globally, the concerns from the Indian downstream community are much more pertinent, and have been driven by the low-ball capex tactics employed regularly for utility-site builds.

This issue is dominating all aspects of the Indian PV sector, and is fundamental to all parties, with the government’s 2030/300GW plans being largely conditional on its initial 2020/100GW goal being deemed good value-for-money in setting up solar as a viable, competitive and reliably energy source.

More than 50 companies wanted to speak in this session alone! However, we decided to keep the company and speaker line-up highly focused and including complementary aspects of what feeds into module quality and reliability.

The session includes National Solar Energy Federation of India (NSEFI), STS (Senergy Technical Services) Certified, the independent engineering arm of L&T-Sargent & Lundy, and PV Evolution Labs. Each of these companies has specific involvement in the parameters guiding and measuring company and product reliability and bankability metrics used in the selection of product for utility scale solar deployment today. A panel discussion (expected to have eager participation from the audience!) will follow the invited talks.

Day two of PV IndiaTech 2019

We start day two of PV IndiaTech 2019 with a session specific to R&D technology-transfer. We decided to include this due to the need for Indian PV manufacturing – in particular cell production – to become state-of-the-art today and also to understand what next-generation cell architectures were being implemented outside the country.

When looking at many of the companies setting benchmark performance metrics for PV manufacturing today, a key component of this has been their engagement with some of the leading PV R&D institutes and how they have effectively transferred technology from lab-to-fab at the GW mass production level.

Speakers are from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), CEA-INES, the ISC Konstanz, SERIS and domestic-based IIT Bombay (NCPRE).

Returning to a key theme of day one, the following session is spearheaded by DuPont, looking at how quality through the value chain, in terms of module component supply, module assembly, system build, and tracking performance on-site back to materials and supplier choice. This issue also feeds into a host of topics impacting the India sector today, many of which were flagged above during the day one overview above.

The closing afternoon of PV IndiaTech 2019 starts by looking at companies that are market-leaders in technologies that differentiate from the China-centric c-Si wafer/cell production offerings today. This session is particularly relevant to India today, with the country having to ensure that future technology support is not simply adopting me-too variants of what China can dominate through economy-of-scale and single-digit gross-margin operations.

Technologies and companies challenging the China status-quo

Two of the companies presenting at this session are First Solar and 1366 Technologies.

First Solar already has a multi-GW track-record of module supply to the India market, is in the process of investing billion-dollar levels of capex into its new Series 6 thin-film panels, and has shown repeatedly that it can build its ‘copy-exact’ methodology in different countries with rapid pace and efficiency: factors that the Indian market needs during its next phases of investment.

1366 Technologies has hit the headlines recently, when reporting it would ramp its ‘Direct Wafer’ production at a new facility in Malaysia. The technology seeks to lower silicon utilization rates to below 1.5g/W with a lower cost structure seen today in the mainstream ingot/wafer two-stage process stages of the c-Si value-chain. The talk by 1366 is important now within the Indian context, with policy makers still grappling with how to create domestic production upstream from the cell stage, without simply being a second-rate option to Chinese wafer supply today.

Hearing from leading downstream players in the India market

The remaining talks in the afternoon of day two of the event are dedicated to some of the leading companies driving project development, EPC construction, portfolio ownership, O&M, asset management and IPP activities.

PV IndiaTech 2019 is featuring market-leaders during this session, including Adani Green Energy, ReNew Power, Mahindra Susten, ACME Group and Fortum. Further perspectives on O&M and asset management are being delivered by Alectris.

This session is critical within the scope of the two-day proceedings, as the Indian downstream segment is at the heart of the whole-industry drive to higher performing products with improved quality and reliability, and how this ultimately impacts on asset return-on-investment.

Furthermore, with increasing levels of DCR and domestic content use in the coming years, it is vital that the domestic downstream sector understands how to benchmark imported products (and materials) with those that are available today within India, or will be offered when the new upstream factories come online in the coming years.

How to attend PV IndiaTech 2019

The event takes place at the Leela Palace, New Delhi during 24-25 April 2019. Information on how to register to attend can be found by navigating the tabs at the event website here.

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