A Self-Sustained Solar Manufacturing Ecosystem Could be in Place in India in 2 to 3 years

The growing needs of the Indian solar industry and COVID-19 related supply chain disruptions have increased the need for developing a self-sustaining manufacturing ecosystem.

The government has come up with several initiatives, but things are still moving slowly, and it will take some time before the dependence on solar imports is reduced.

Stakeholders believe that creating an ecosystem is just the start. Success will also depend on technology upgrades, consistency in supplies, quality, and competitive pricing.

To address the issues related to the domestic manufacturing ecosystem, Mercom hosted a virtual conference, ‘Mercom India Solar Forum 2021’ on October 21. The virtual event addressed the ground realities and market outlook amid the rapidly changing solar space.

A session dedicated to the solar manufacturing sector titled ‘Moving Towards a Domestic Manufacturing Base with Sustainable Demand’ examined the issues related to the domestic manufacturing sector and measures to create a self-sustainable manufacturing ecosystem in the country.

The panelists included Amitesh Kumar Sinha, Joint Secretary, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy; Sujoy Ghosh, Vice President and Country Managing Director, First Solar; Ramesh Nair, CEO, Adani Solar; and Manjunath DV, Managing Director, EMMVEE. Priya Sanjay, Managing Director, Mercom India, moderated the session.

The panel discussed the feasibility of the domestic manufacturing initiative, market opportunity, and the plans of stakeholders to establish a market within the country and export opportunities.

Speaking on the steps taken by the government to meet the demand of 300 GW by 2030, Amitesh Kumar Sinha said, “The introduction of the Basic Customs Duty (BCD) in April next year, the PLI program, and the Approved List of Models and Manufacturers (ALMM) are some of the important initiatives for the development of a robust manufacturing ecosystem in the country. With the implementation of the PLI program, we will have 55 GW of module manufacturing capacity, 33 GW of ingots and wafers manufacturing, and another 19 GW of polysilicon in the next two to three years.”

“With nearly 37 GW of projects under various implementation phases, 23 GW of projects under tendering process, 10 GW of hybrid and round-the-clock projects, and another 10 GW of rooftop and KUSUM projects, we’ll have nearly 100 GW of projects in the next two years. So, we will have a demand of nearly 30 GW/year, and I think we can meet this requirement,” Amitesh added.

Assuming the PLI auction results are announced, and the Letters of Award are issued by Q4 2021, another 10 GW of module capacity can come up from Q2 2023 to Q4 2024.

Buoyed by the response to the PLI program, Amitesh noted that the response has been as expected. “The amount of ₹45 billion (~$605 million) is very less, and we have assessed that nearly ₹250 billion (~$3.33 billion) will be required for the program. Right now, MNRE is not contemplating coming up with any new programs for the manufacturing sector.”

Assuming 8.9 GW of installations in 2021, the cumulative capacity as of 2021 would be 48 GW. So, to reach the target of 300 GW solar by 2030, an annual addition of 28 GW is required from 2022.

Watch Recording - Manufacturing

Earlier this year, First Solar announced that it would invest $684 million (~$9.13 million) to set up a new, vertically integrated photovoltaic (PV) thin-film solar module manufacturing facility in India.

Replying to Priya Sanjay’s question on First Solar’s decision to foray into the Indian market, Sujoy Ghosh said, “India is an important market for First Solar. We have planned a fully integrated manufacturing plant in Sri Perumbudur in Tamil Nadu, which will have a manufacturing capacity to the tune of 3.3 GW. We will be able to manufacture 15,500 modules per day. The production facility will be for thin-film solar modules with cadmium telluride (CdTe) technology. We are not shifting to polysilicon.”

“We use alternate semiconductors for our productions, and our supply chain is completely independent of silicon. We produce advanced thin-film modules in a fully integrated facility under one roof, where we do everything from device definition to finished modules. When we look at capacity expansion globally, the most important thing is the proximity to demand because higher freight charges affect the overall cost of the module. We also look at the accessibility of real estate, labor, energy, and water, and finally, we factor in domestic and international policies. India is well-positioned in all these aspects, and we have a long history of operating in India. The cadmium telluride semiconductor is uniquely positioned in terms of its response to the hot and humid climate that India has. Also, the demand in India is inherently sustainable, and it is going to be around 25 GW per annum. Our investment is primarily going to be for India, and we are not envisaging any exports from the 3.3 GW facility,” Sujoy added.

Last November, Adani Solar announced its plans to expand its cell and module manufacturing facility with an additional capacity building of 2 GW.

Sharing his views on the current status of the manufacturing sector in the country, Ramesh Nair said, “Our 2 GW manufacturing facility will start operations from December 2021, and the cell lines will be coming in June next year. Our 4 GW manufacturing facility will be at electronic manufacturing cluster (EMC) Mundra, and we are also planning to expand the ancillary production facility at EMC Mundra.”

Recently, EMMVEE signed a memorandum of understanding with the Karnataka government to set up an ₹8.25 billion (~$110.74 million) solar module and cell manufacturing plant at Dobbspet in Karnataka. This will be EMMVEE’s second facility in Karnataka after the 500 MW module manufacturing plant in Bangalore

Stressing the need to stay competitive in the manufacturing space, Manjunath DV said, “Our expansion plan has given us long-term visibility, and we are confident going forward. Long-term demand is going to be there, and we can play an important role in that. For us, price is not the main issue; the cost structure is also important. We are well-equipped to meet the growing demands of the domestic solar industry, and it’s only a matter of time before we have a self-sustainable manufacturing ecosystem in place.”

Welcoming the government’s push for a domestic manufacturing ecosystem, Amitesh added that the country could have a total integrated manufacturing capacity of 70-75 GW in the next five years.

“We also have the Promotion of Manufacturing of Electronic Components and Semiconductors (SPECS) program launched by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) for small manufacturers. Under the program, an incentive of 25% is provided on the CAPEX to manufacturers who want to set up cell, wafers, ingots, and polysilicon manufacturing plants separately. There is no need for a fully integrated plant. For solar cell manufacturing, if they plan to invest ₹2.5 billion (~$33.38 million) for a 500 MW capacity, they can get an incentive under the SPECS program. Also, suppose they want to form a cooperative and plan for higher capacity. In that case, they can go for wafers and polysilicon manufacturing as well and can avail the incentive under the SPECS program,” he noted.

Click here to view a recording of this panel discussion.