Quality Consciousness in Indian Solar Projects is a Mixed Bag_ DuPont Interview

The quality of photovoltaic modules goes a long way in ensuring the longevity of solar projects. In the quest to maximize profits, there has been a tendency to compromise on quality which runs the risk of failed components, decreased efficiency, and output. It is a no-brainer that successful projects utilize materials that conform to the quality standards and help sustain projects through unfavorable conditions.

Solar installations in India have been rising steadily, though. In Q2 2019, it witnessed a slight decline at 1,510 MW, a 14% quarter-over-quarter decrease compared to 1,761 MW installed in Q1 2019. Installations were down by 9% year-over-year compared to 1,665 MW installed in Q2 2018, according to Mercom India Research’s Q2 2019 India Solar Market Update. India added 3.2 GW of solar capacity in the first half of 2019 with large-scale projects making up 83% and rooftop installations accounting for 17%. Installations were down by 35%, compared to the 5.1 GW of capacity added in 1H of 2018.

Mercom has reported on the aggressive Indian market, where the difference of a penny can turn the tables. An increasing number of developers are overlooking the quality of the components that go into building a sustainable solar project. This does not bode well for India’s solar industry that’s poised to grow to a capacity of 100 GW by 2022.

DuPont India is one of the leading suppliers of back sheets and silver paste utilized in solar projects. On the sidelines of Renewable Energy India (REI) Expo 2019, Mercom sat down with Rajaram Pai, Business Leader, E&C South Asia, at DuPont India to discuss market trends, opportunities, and challenges in the Indian solar industry. Excerpts:



How is the back sheet and metallization paste market for you in India?

Back sheets are very important in any solar project as they protect the modules against the harmful ultraviolet rays besides providing chemical resistance and insulation. It can be thought of as the backbone and is integral to solar modules, increasing the overall life of solar modules.

Now, metallization paste helps increase the efficiency of solar modules, so it helps to aggregate all the electrons that are generated through the photovoltaic process to be able to convert that into electricity.

So, both (back sheets and metallization paste) play a very significant role in a solar project. Silver paste is especially is very important as you need to reduce the amount of silver typically found in a module. If you look at the cost break up, silver paste is usually the second-highest in the list. So, everyone wants to reduce the amount of silver paste used, and we have been continuously innovating to increase its efficiency. Solamet photovoltaic metallization paste is ideally suited to maximize efficiency for the most demanding conventional and PERC architectures while also ensuring reliable production performance.

We supply a large amount of Solamet paste to the Indian solar cell manufacturers. In India, the most common technology currently is polycrystalline, though a lot of them are slowly moving towards Mono PERC and bifacial modules.

For back sheets, we have been working with mainly project developers and EPC companies. It is important to understand that the failure of a back sheet is equal to the failure of a cell. We have studied over 2 GW of projects across the globe and found that 14% of all visual failures are because of the back sheet. So, if a back sheet fails, the generation from the module will drop and it could also lead to fatalities as the generated power might leak out. So, a quality back sheet to prevent such accidents is vital. So, we are working with project developers and EPC companies who provide us with their specifications. Our back sheets with Tedlar are supplied to the module makers who then send it to the Indian projects. So, we work both ways – we conduct reliability studies by visiting the project sites as well as work with the module manufacturers through our laminators (who make the sandwich structure you see in a back sheet).

When do you think Mono PERC modules will gain traction in India?

The price differential for Mono PERC currently is a little higher than what Indian developers and Indian price points can afford. So, the local market is emphasizing more on polycrystalline just because of the pricing. Now, if the Mono Perc prices start coming closer to the poly prices, then these would start looking very attractive because Mono PERC’s outputs are significantly higher.

If the switch from poly to Mono happens globally, Indian developers will have no option but to adopt Mono PERC. Maybe it could happen in a couple of years; it’s hard to tell.

How do you think the Indian market has evolved since you started operations here?

If you look at the manufacturing market, there used to be only a few players like Tata or Moserbaer. Today, there are a lot more module manufacturers. The manufacturing capacity in India today stands somewhere between 9 GW to 11 GW. The good thing is that the manufacturers who have put in large capacities are doing quite well. They are using good quality materials and the right interventions in the manufacturing process. Besides, the people who are working in these manufacturing lines are well-trained. Most of the project developers prefer domestic supply for the ease of logistics, so a lot of these big manufacturing units get this benefit as they are supplying to these local projects. Overseas used to be an attractive market, but now, due to the restrictions on imports and exports, a lot of these domestic manufacturers are interested in supplying domestic projects while working to reduce their costs. Today, there is still a cost differential between a module made in India and an imported one. They are trying to bring that down by reducing the overheads, by using products more efficient and by smart sourcing.

Can you elaborate on how they are smart sourcing?

One way of smart sourcing is that these manufacturers are now asking companies like DuPont to set up their facilities in India. Most of our establishments that supply to India are either based in the U.S. or the Asia Pacific, and we must see what makes sense from the perspective of the economies of scale.

Another example of smart sourcing is the amount of detailing that goes into procurement. Now, we get requirements that cite the exact specifications and details that they want in the back sheet. Then, another way of smart sourcing is checking if the materials received conform to their requirements and standards. Moreover, they are now keeping a close eye on the prevalent global trends and predictions to estimate how the prices might move in the next two or three quarters. For them, it is important to quote the right prices for products to developers who are quoting prices with a 12-18-month horizon for installation. Now, if you look at some of the larger companies in the western part of India, they are tying up with manufacturers of back sheets, to set up the manufacturing unit right within their facility as it becomes easier to monitor the quality.

Compared to other markets, how quality conscious do you think the Indian market is?

I would say it’s a mixed bag because some of the project developers we work with are extremely quality conscious. They will detail out all the specifications and ensure that they are met. Furthermore, they also put their own inspectors on the line so that the desired quality is incorporated into the products. Then there are others who are playing the price game and for them the cheapest works. They often come in with the mentality that the product comes with a said warranty period, and if something happens within the period, the warranty of the product will take care of it.  These are the cases where we are witnessing many issues in the projects. You might see that the back sheets have started peeling off, for instance. These modules, however, are certified by the ICE and have a quality stamp on them but the modules have failed because they have gone for either unproven or cheap materials. In a harsh market like India, with its given heat and humidity, this further accelerates the degradation process.

Tell us a little bit about your product mix in India? 

We don’t generally talk in terms of market share per se but what I would like to add here is that we supply our Solamet silver paste to a majority of manufacturers, both the 21 series and the latest 22 generation series. We have pastes that work very well with both Mono PERC and poly modules, single or double print modules. Moreover, our silicon sealant called Fortasun has good demand and has been in the field for about 30 years and is loved by our module manufacturers. Fortasun is an extremely strong product, and we got it from Dow Corning Silicones. So, our supplies go across the value chain.

Can you tell our readers about DuPont’s expansion plans for 2020? How do you foresee the market next year?

This year (2019) was relatively flat compared with last year’s installation numbers. However, next year, we see at least 35 to 40% growth on the current (2019) installation numbers. We have been tracking the installation targets from solar tenders that were released and successfully closed. So, looking at those numbers we are expecting 12 to 13 GW coming to India next year. 2020 looks like a pretty strong growth year for India.

Our target for 2020 is to target as many likeminded larger players in the Indian market as possible as they are the ones that value the quality of products, care about the brands, and they are also targeting international markets. So, our target is to achieve a much stronger market share in 2020.