Until There is Clarity on ALMM, Manufacturers May Push Their Capacities Out: Interview

Reaching 100 GW module manufacturing capacity possible with policy stability


Indian solar module manufacturing was dealt a severe blow when earlier this year, the government put the operation of the Approved List of Models and Manufacturers (ALMM) in abeyance for a year until March 31, 2024.

The ALMM mandated that projects bid out by Indian government agencies were to use only modules from the list. Several domestic manufacturers had invested in getting their modules ALMM-approved, but now projects can use modules even if they are not included in the list. This effectively means that developers can import modules from China and other countries. The ALMM list does not include a single foreign company.

At the recent Mercom India Renewables Summit 2023, we talked to Prashant Mathur, CEO of Saatvik Green Energy, a module manufacturer. He spoke on a range of issues relating to the Indian module manufacturing industry and what he expects from the government on the policy front.

Excerpts from the interview:

India has set an ambitious target of 450 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030. This presents both an opportunity and a challenge. What is your take on this?

Yes, it’s an ambitious goal, and we are poised to achieve it. 280 GW of solar by 2030 is definitely achievable. As a manufacturer, we are well-positioned to expand our capacity and contribute to achieving this number.

But government policies have to be clear. There have been a lot of policy changes for quite some time. Manufacturing is capital-intensive and requires a lot of due diligence and planning to set up manufacturing or expand. So policy changes really dampen the spirits and also the investments. As long as the government keeps the policy clear, I think we are all charged up to reach this target.

Currently, what is the domestic module manufacturing capacity in India?

I would say the nameplate capacity is about 20 GW, of which much is polycrystalline technology, which is obsolete now. Monocrystalline is about 10 GW. But with the plans that everybody had in place and thanks to BCD and ALMM, we were hoping we would reach a capacity of about 40-45 GW by the end of the year.

If we have consistent, clear policies for the next 2-3 years, we can reach 100 GW capacity easily. It’s not only modules with the PLI program; it’s also cells, wafers, ingots, polysilicon, and ancillaries. Everyone is aligned to expand capacities.

You mentioned policy stability. What do you feel about the government’s decision to keep the ALMM in abeyance until March next year?

It was a shock for us. Because we have spent a humongous amount of money, resources, and time. A lot of effort has gone into getting ourselves ALMM-approved. Suddenly, you see that ALMM has been extended … it’s a dampener. Obviously, a lot of capacities will get pushed, and that has already happened. People who were going to come out with capacities earlier this year are now looking at moving it by 6-12 months to see how ALMM plays out. Is it going to stay, or is it going to be extended? That clarity is not there. We are all nervous about it.

Capacities take time to come up, and unless you have policy clarity, it’s going to be like the chicken and egg story. At the end of 12 months, the government will see that significant capacities have not come in because everybody suspended their plans.

So there could be another extension, do you think?

It’s going to be another dampener. Until we have policy clarity and a deadline and end date, everybody will be pushing their capacities out. And whatever capacities are coming in, manufacturers will be looking at exporting.

We have a situation where as a manufacturer if I import cells, I pay a duty of more than 27.5%, but my customer can import from ASEAN countries with a 0% duty. So, it is like penalizing a manufacturer.

I am a module manufacturer today, but I also have to get into cell manufacturing. How will I expand into the cell until I have stability on the module side? There has to be clarity and stability. Then you will see capacities fly, and India can become a manufacturing base not only serving the Indian market but also becoming a global exporter of solar technology.

Manufacturers had met the Minister of Power when the government decided to put ALMM in abeyance. What kind of assurances were given to you then?

I empathize with them because they have to balance a lot of things. They are saying there is not enough manufacturing in India, which is why the ALMM decision was made. While it is understandable, it (domestic manufacturing) has to begin somewhere, and that somewhere is now. But when things were getting stable with BCD and ALMM, this happened. Stability will come from the policy. Let the policy play out, and you will see a lot of manufacturing automatically come in.

On one side, the government has announced PLI for module manufacturing; on the other, there is this ALMM decision. How do you see this contradiction?

You want to promote local manufacturing by giving incentives through PLI, but you are not clear on ALMM. Until the ALMM order becomes stable, how will people like us and others who want to bid for PLI set up integrated manufacturing of scale?

How do you see the impact on your company, for instance?

It doesn’t impact the demand, but it does impact the market prices and even from ASEAN countries because of the U.S. market. But anything from ASEAN countries is not a top-line product anyways. And who knows if circumvention is happening with products coming from China. There must be a clear audit before giving BIS (certification); their factories must be audited very well. We need to be sure that it is not Chinese products coming in through that route. But if you really want ASEAN countries’ modules to come here, then obviously, you need to remove the duties on cell imports for that period also. Otherwise, we will be eliminated.

We are all now looking at the U.S. market. You have an industry wherein a Chinese manufacturer serves local customer, and local manufacturers serve international customers. It’s a peculiar situation. It is not good for the industry.

Last year saw a big surge in Indian module exports, especially to the U.S. What are Saatvik’s export plans?

Saatvik has also started exporting. We are also looking at international markets because the demand is consistent, and they all want non-Chinese modules. We end up selling at lower than our cost sometimes because there are free exports happening from ASEAN countries. But it is not a happy situation because our first priority has to be to sell in India.

The U.S. Inflation Reduction Act offers several incentives to those willing to set up manufacturing facilities in America. Does this present a good opportunity for Indian companies to set up facilities there?

Yes, obviously. As a manufacturing company, we are also looking at manufacturing in the U.S. In two years, you can see a lot of Indian manufacturers setting up facilities in the U.S.