In 2021, the share of string inverters in solar installations overtook India’s central inverters. Sungrow was the top solar inverter supplier in 2021 and the top string inverter supplier, according to Mercom India Research’s latest report, India Solar Market Leaderboard 2022.
Despite the supply chain disruptions that affected the solar sector last year, Sungrow continued its journey on an upward path. In March this year, the company scaled up its manufacturing facility in India to 10 GW. It also launched new products – string and central inverters. Sungrow’s SG350HX and “1+X” modular inverter features a maximum output power of 352 kW, supporting large-format high-efficiency bifacial PV modules. Sungrow has over 224 GW of installed capacity worldwide as of December 2021.
Mercom spoke to Sunil Badesra, Country Head, Sungrow India, to discuss the company’s plans and his perspective on India’s solar industry and the policy regime going forward.
- Sungrow is one of the top inverter suppliers to India. How was the market for Sungrow in 2021?
Last year was highly volatile for Sungrow and the whole Indian solar market amid the second Covid wave, but Sungrow managed to grow and hold on to the top position in the Indian market.
Sungrow achieved over 4.2 GW supply in 2021 and a cumulative shipment of more than 12 GW with a market share of nearly 35%. The company diversified the business in India and entered the storage market by grabbing the supply order for India’s biggest energy storage project implemented by the Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) at Leh. Also, the company increased its solar inverter manufacturing facility in India from 3 GW to 10 GW, which was inaugurated in March this year.
- You have had a 3 GW inverter manufacturing capacity in India since 2018 and scaled up to 10 GW solar with the new 7 GW facility in Bengaluru. What was the reason behind this massive expansion?
We expected the Indian market to operate somewhere around 7-8 GW per year when we put up our 3 GW plant four years ago. However, due to various factors affecting the solar sector last year, we saw that figure exceed the 9 GW mark. We are optimistic that India’s solar market will do much better in the coming years. So, based on this, we determined that the 3 GW arrangement was inadequate for us, and considering the type of demand that is growing in the market, not only in the inverter but also in the storage front, we thought that it was the ideal moment in 2021 to expand. Therefore, we have decided to increase the factory’s capacity from 3 to 10 GW. In the last four years, we have shipped around 15 GW of inverters from the Indian factory, and the shipments have gone to the U.S. market and for other projects in Europe. Also, we will cater to neighboring countries such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh.
- Any reason for picking Bengaluru as the manufacturing location?
The electronic supply chain and logistics availability made us select Bengaluru as the manufacturing setup. Also, there are other inverter manufacturers in Bengaluru.
- Sungrow supplies central and string inverters. What demand shift have you seen in the past two years, and what is your forecast for 2022 and 2023?
The past two years have seen more and more string inverters with enhanced technology coming into the market, and the share of string inverters has gradually increased to 50%. We are now adding 4.5 GW of annual shipments every year. We have already shipped 12 GW of inverters to the Indian market by the end of 2021, and I think we are the only company in the inverter segment which has crossed the 12 GW in India.
- With the government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative, where do you see the opportunity for inverter component manufacturers in India?
The Indian government is unequivocal in its support to the companies making investments that can comply with the local requirements of the tenders, like 50% local content in all inverters. Sungrow has catered to various customers from the 10 GW manufacturing plant, including residential, commercial & industrial, utility-scale levels, and global customers. Sungrow India has a long-term development plan to help us achieve our renewable energy mission goals. For the success of the ‘Make in India’ Initiative, Sungrow is willing to continue to lead this market and set the standard for the Indian solar industry. Our commitment to the solar industry is to provide a global standard and quality products with good quality services.
- Any challenges you are currently facing in the solar inverter segment in India?
Solar inverter manufacturers suffered two significant setbacks because of supply chain issues. The first was the cost increase, which posed a significant challenge to the sector. Fortunately, Sungrow is the industry leader in inverters, so our products are competitive. The other factor is equipment shortages, particularly in integrated circuit chips and IGBT modules, which directly influence production and deliveries. Because of our large order amounts and long-term relationships, Sungrow has the advantage of being well-supplied by our vendors.
- Can you tell us more about your growth trajectory and how you plan to tackle growing competition in the Indian market?
Six years ago, when we entered the Indian market, only European suppliers were there. So, how were we able to carve a niche in the Indian market? About 5-6 years ago, the solar market was entirely operating on a 4 MW block size for utility-scale projects. Then, we shifted that market from 4 MW to 10 MW block size, where customers could save on the balance of system (BoS) cost. We can say that the reduction in BoS is one of the primary reasons for the reduction of tariffs now. Later, from the 10 MW size, we made the solution for 12.5 MW. Now, we are coming up with new product solutions. The new inverter range that we have started proposing to our customers will give them some indirect benefits in terms of BoS or how they will maintain the inverters over 25 years. It is about the block size inverter rating. Initially, the 1,000 V market was there, then we shifted to 1,500 V, and now a lot of research is happening, where 2,000 or 2,100 V solutions are getting worked out.
- What is your view on the BIS certification for inverters? What hurdles are manufacturers facing?
The BIS regulation has put pressure on international suppliers to comply with Indian standards, and uncertainty in implementation and unavailability of testing facilities are the main obstacles. This has resulted in business loss and capital expenditure for suppliers. Since we had already started manufacturing in India, we did not face many challenges. In my view now, the BIS certification deadline may not be extended any further except for inverters of higher ratings like 200 kW and above and 1,500 V inverters.
- Do you want to share any other market insights?
Even with recent technological advancements, solar efficiency still has a long way to go. Despite its recent rise, the industry still has many obstacles in the way. The efficiency, dependability, environmental implications, and reliance on government regulations require improvements. These concerns could hinder the industry’s growth. I have repeatedly said that I understand the modules’ contribution to solar projects is about 60% to 65%. Still, an inverter is also one of the significant components which we cannot ignore, along with the other BoS items. This kind of motivation is crucial for suppliers like us.
Rakesh Ranjan is a staff reporter at Mercom India. Prior to joining Mercom, he worked in many roles as a business correspondent, assistant editor, senior content writer, and sub-editor with bcfocus.com, CIOReview/Silicon India, Verbinden Communication, and Bangalore Bias. Rakesh holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). More articles from Rakesh Ranjan.