Solar Quality Tests a Good Move at an Exorbitant Cost_ Fronius India Interview

After rapid expansion in the Indian rooftop solar sector, installations have slowed down this year, and there is certainly room for improvement in the form of government support, quality issues and policy clarity.

According to the recent Q2 2019 India Solar market update published by Mercom India, cumulative rooftop solar installations have reached ~3.8 GW as of Q2 2019, representing 12% of total cumulative solar installations. But the growth streak ended this year as rooftop installations declined by 42% year-over-year in the first half of 2019.

At this point, rooftop installations are only at 10% of the government’s goal of 40 GW of rooftop solar capacity by 2022.

With rising installations, the demand for solar inverters has also spiked in recent years, leading to increased competition in this segment. To understand the challenges and scope of solar inverter companies are facing as they vie for more rooftop solar business, Mercom sat down with V.V. Kamath, managing director at Fronius India, on the sidelines of Renewable Energy India (REI) Expo 2019 to discuss market trends, opportunities, and challenges that they face as a rooftop solar inverter supplier in India.



As an inverter supplier, how has the Indian solar market turned out for you this year?

Compared to last year, this year has been slow. The key factor that has played a role in our business is how equipment prices have fallen. As you may know, the Indian market is highly price-sensitive, you couple that with a lack of awareness, and you will see that consumers can be misled into buying poor quality inverters. Over the past twelve months, Indian corporates have faced liquidity and cash flow issues, which has also had an impact on the rooftop solar market.

Can you elaborate on some of the reasons why rooftop segment in India has slowed down?

In the rooftop segment, we supply our inverters for small and mid-sized commercial projects. We are seeing that these developers are suffering from a liquidity crunch and therefore they are not investing in rooftop solar through the CAPEX (cash down/outright purchase) model. As for projects with the OPEX (lease/no upfront cost) model, developers are highly selective in terms of developing rooftop projects for these companies.

I would also like to add that Fronius has until now supplied inverters up to 27 kW, therefore we have not been supplying to large rooftop projects. However, at REI 2019 we are launching our new inverters ranging from 50 kW to 100 kW.

Tell us more about your inverters? What sets you apart from the competition?

As of now, our current rooftop focused inverters range from 3 kW to 100 kW. We are also launching hybrid inverters which have a storage solution and can be controlled with software.

One of the key differentiators for us is that we have been in this industry for over 27 years, many inverter suppliers do not have that sort of industry experience. Therefore, from a customer dependability point of view, we are there for them, our inverters come with extendable warranties of 20 years. We have also designed our inverters in a way so that the after-sales services experience is smooth. Our snap inverters allow the customer to view error codes on the system (in case they ever arise), which they can refer to the services team. Our team will do their best to resolve the issue over a call, if that is not successful, we send our servicemen with the necessary replacement parts to resolve the issue.

What are the current challenges for the rooftop solar market?

We are not seeing the full potential of residential solar in India. Most power consumers are not aware of it, so the government must invest in educating customers on long-term financial savings and positive environmental impact of rooftop solar. The other critical area that needs focus is the implementation of net metering policies in India. Since net metering has its own idiosyncrasies depending on the state, the average customer tends to be very confused or apprehensive of installing a rooftop solar system. (Mercom analyzed this problem of net-metering in an in-depth analysis – you can read the report here.)

Residential and small-scale rooftop solar is a big opportunity in India. For the rooftop solar market to grow, these segments will require a push from the industry and the government as well.

Any challenges with BIS or ALMM implementation?

We welcome the BIS standards introduced by the government of India, but with a caveat that the cost of getting certification is extremely high. Charging ₹3 or 4 million (~$42,000-56,446) for different power classes is too much, no one in this market is profitable enough to handle such exorbitant costs. The government also needs to distinguish between the different regions from where inverters are supplied in India. We are a European supplier, with products being manufactured in Austria. We have to get the certification complying with European norms, we already have European IEC certificates which are more sophisticated than certificates that some other suppliers may get. Further, BIS certification should also focus more on the financial capability and goodwill of the company. That said, it is important to have Indian standards which will promote quality products.

Previously, Mercom reported the struggles of inverter manufacturers were having understanding the ambiguous BIS certification process. The unavailability of labs, lack of testing facilities and workforce, unreasonable costs of testing, absence of series guidelines, and confusion regarding MNRE notifications were some of the issues that have made the compliance of the order extremely difficult.