Growing Demand from C&I Segment Driving Solar Module Sales in India: Interview

Trina Solar has applied for ALMM inclusion and awaits the ministry’s approval

September 14, 2023


In an exclusive interview with Mercom India, Gaurav Mathur, India Head at Trina Solar, talks about how the growing demand from the commercial and industrial (C&I) segment consumers for higher efficiency modules has increased the sales for most manufacturers.

Trina Solar was among the top solar module suppliers to India in the calendar year 2022, according to Mercom’s India Solar Market Leaderboard 2023.

Mathur talks about the company’s plan to introduce new products, such as its n-type solar modules and AI-based smart tracker system in India.

He also dwells on the importance of amending the Approved List of Models and Modules regulation to allow global players to participate in the domestic solar industry so that higher module prices would not impede the adoption of solar.

Here are some of the excerpts from the interview.-

Could you share an overview of Trina Solar’s business in India? How much of your business is focused on large-scale projects compared to C&I?

Trina Solar is an international company that has been in business for 26 years. We have been synonymous with solar modules, but in recent years, we have expanded into the design and manufacture of trackers and energy storage systems, in line with our new market positioning as a total solutions provider for smart energy.  We entered India in 2010, and since then, we have shipped close to 9 GW of solar modules.

This year, we have signed agreements worth over 1 GW, boosting our market share, especially in the utility-scale segment. We recently concluded a project with a leading solar company in India supplying modules worth 160 MW.

Having said that, our business in the commercial and industrial segment is gaining traction. There is an increased demand for our solar modules, not just from large companies but also from micro to small-medium enterprises. The textile industry is a notable example. We are providing solar modules to some of the industry’s biggest players but also to very small businesses in this sector.

The Vertex DE21 module series has been successful in India due to its higher power bin in the market. These modules, based on our latest 210 technology, deliver a lower levelized cost of energy and help to reduce businesses’ dependence on the grid.

This year, we will be launching our first n-type solar PV modules and the second-generation Vanguard 2P tracker system. Our ‘smart tracker,’ which uses real-time data and artificial intelligence, is a ‘game changer.’

Solar module technologies are evolving quickly. What technology trends do you see taking hold going forward? What proprietary technologies is Trina developing?

The market is migrating to n-type i-TOPCon technology. The i-TOPCon, also known as the industrial tunnel oxide passivated contact technology, increases the solar cell’s efficiency.

A PERC solar cell paired with an ultra-thin tunneling oxide layer adds another barrier to contain unabsorbed light, increasing cell efficiency. Higher efficiency modules allow the panel to harvest more energy per unit area. i-TOPCon modules also have an 80% bi-faciality rate. Our Vertex N modules are powered by i-TOPCon technology.

Besides i-TOPCon, another key trend is the use of bi-facial modules coupled with trackers. India used to be a fixed-tilt market because mono-facial modules were cheaper. However, it has been proven that the additional energy gained from the back of the module provides a greater return on investment.

Another key trend is the growing popularity of n-type i-TOPCon cells. Generally, n-type cells are more durable. By the end of this year, we envision our cell capacity to reach 75 GW, including 40 GW of n-type cells, all of which are equipped with our n-type i-TOPCon Advanced technology.

The global solar industry is also working to standardize the size of modules to make it easier for the customer and to bring the industry closer together to drive collaborative research and development. Trina Solar is famous for leading the standardization of module size to a 2,384*1,134 mm format. This format size, referred to colloquially as ‘golden size’ modules, helps to boost performance dramatically. It also reduces the balance of system costs and the levelized cost of electricity because more modules can fit on each tracker.

How are Indian solar manufacturers coping against the competition with their Chinese counterparts in your view? And with the PLI capacity being developed now, can they match up with them?

As a global player in solar PV manufacturing, we believe that programs such as the production-linked incentive (PLI) will be impactful for Indian solar panel manufacturers in setting up plants of global-scale capacity to manufacture highly efficient modules – at par with international standards – resulting in economies of scale, facilitating widespread solar adoption in the market.

With the ALMM regulation now suspended, what is the impact on the supply-demand situation for imported modules in India? How do you see this change after the regulation takes effect once again?

The stay on the ALMM mandate is expected to positively impact India’s renewable energy sector, allowing the domestic manufacturing capabilities and capacities to grow and match the consumption and demand.

In the long run, we believe that for India to reach energy goals by 2030, policies around the solar industry, such as ALMM, should be amended. The implementation of such policies may create a demand-supply gap due to over-reliance on local production – making it challenging for developers to execute solar projects. For example, developers demand 500W+ modules for higher efficiency and cost reduction. But only about 3 GW of ALMM listed modules meet this requirement.

Also, allowing global players to participate in the domestic solar industry will ensure that for a price-conscious market such as India, the challenge of higher module prices would not become an impediment to the widespread adoption of solar energy.

Does Trina Solar consider enlisting in the ALMM or starting a new manufacturing facility in India anytime soon, as it is the company’s largest market in the APAC region? If not, how does it plan to continue supplying after the ALMM regulation comes into play?

We have applied for our inclusion in the ALMM, and we await approvals from the government. However, at the moment, we have no plans for commencing manufacturing. Having said that, we will continue to observe the economic and financial viability of manufacturing in India. In the end, the decision to enter manufacturing in India will need to be a market-driven process.

We will continuously monitor the situation, react to the market demand, and support our customers after the ALMM regulation comes into play.

What are Trina Solar’s future expansion plans (launch of products, if any)?

Last year, Trina Solar obtained 173 new patents and now owns 1,159 patents. As an early mover with n-type technology, Trina Solar plans to upgrade its offerings with products, such as Vertex N modules, powered by the advanced i-TOPCon Ultra technology.

The Vertex n-type modules are already designed to provide 685W maximum power output and up to 22.1% module efficiency, but this technology platform is being further developed to provide 700W+ modules – delivering a lower balance of system cost and levelized cost of energy. Currently, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) is evaluating the product, and we will launch our n-type i-TOPCon modules in India as soon as it receives BIS certification.

In a suite of providing smart energy solutions to customers, we will also be launching our second-generation Vanguard 2P tracker in India. The Vanguard 2P, with its multi-motor control system, is highly reliable and easier to install than traditional mechanical drives.

Another key focus for us would be introducing Trina Solar’s new version of Elementa, a modular, flexible, and scalable system for utility applications and microgrids in India. This will be an additional piece to our total solutions offering to meet the ever-growing needs of local customers.