Experts Explain: What it will take to fulfill India’s solar power dream

Source: The post is based on the article “Experts Explain: What it will take to fulfill India’s solar power dream” published in the Indian Express on 9th August 2022.

Syllabus: GS 3 – Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc..

Relevance: About the challenges faced by solar PV manufacturing in India.

News: From less than 10 MW in 2010, India has added significant solar PV capacity over the past decade, achieving over 50 GW by 2022.

By 2030, India is targeting about 500 GW of renewable energy deployment, out of which ~280 GW is expected from solar PV. This necessitates the deployment of nearly 30 GW of solar capacity every year until 2030.

About Solar PV panels

A typical solar PV value chain consists of first fabricating polysilicon ingots which need to be transformed into thin Si wafers that are needed to manufacture the PV mini-modules. The mini-modules are then assembled into market-ready and field-deployable modules.

The bigger size of solar wafer there is an advantage in terms of silicon cost per wafer, as this effectively means lower loss of silicon during ingot to wafer processing.

What are the challenges that need to be overcome in solar PV manufacturing?

Higher Imports: India currently does not have enough module and cell manufacturing capacity. Hence, Indian solar deployment or installation companies depend heavily on imports.

India’s current solar module manufacturing capacity is limited to ~15 GW per year. India only produces ~3.5 GW of cells currently. India has no manufacturing capacity for solar wafers and polysilicon ingots, and currently imports 100% of silicon wafers and around 80% of cells even at the current deployment levels.

Size and technology: In terms of cell technology, most of the manufacturing still uses Al-BSF technology, which can typically give efficiencies of ~18-19% at the cell level and ~16-17% at the module level. By contrast, cell manufacturing worldwide has moved to other newer technologies, yielding module efficiency of >21%.

Raw materials supply: Silicon wafer, the most expensive raw material, is not manufactured in India. More than 90% of the world’s solar wafer manufacturing currently happens in China.

Other key raw materials such as metallic pastes of silver and aluminium to form the electrical contacts too, are almost 100% imported. India is more of an assembly hub than a manufacturing one.

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Academics plus industry: India has hardly invested in creating high-quality high-TRL technology centres that can help the industry to try and test the technologies in a cost-effective manner. Examples of the such centres include IMEC Belgium or the Holst Centre in the Netherlands.

What are the government initiatives to promote solar PV panels?

Firstly, there is a 40% duty on the import of modules and 25% duty on the import of cells, and a PLI scheme to support manufacturing capex.

Secondly, it is mandatory to procure modules only from an approved list of manufacturers (ALMM) for projects that are connected to state/ central government grids; so far, only India-based manufacturers have been approved.

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What can be done?

Although India is making great progress in the deployment of solar PV modules for power generation, its path to becoming a manufacturing hub for the same requires more than just putting tax barriers and commercial incentives in the form of PLI schemes, etc.

a) India will have to work on technology tie-ups to make the right grade of silicon for solar cell manufacturing, b) In long term, it would be beneficial to move up the value chain by making components that could drive the price and quality of both cells and modules, c) India needs to create industry-like centres to work on specific technology domains with clear roadmaps and deliverables for the short and long term, d) Strong industry-academia collaboration in an innovative manner to start developing home-grown technologies.

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