Competition is Key to Building a Strong Solar Manufacturing Ecosystem: LONGi Interview

Chinese firm aims to raise domestic module supply to 10 GW in a few years


LONGi Solar sees its Indian business nearly tripling in the next few years with an annual solar module supply of 10 GW, up from the 2021 high of 3.5 GW, Arijit Mitra, Deputy General Manager at LONGi Solar, said in an interview on the sidelines of the Mercom India Renewables Summit 2023, held in New Delhi on April 26-27.

Mitra added that LONGi has applied to be part of the Approved List of Models and Manufacturers (ALMM), and he hopes that factory visits by the Indian government officials will happen soon with the end of COVID restrictions.

Here are some excerpts from the interview.

With the COVID-19 threat seemingly behind us, can you describe the current module demand and supply positions?

Things are changing now after a sluggish 2022, and the demand is really good because industrial customers and developers are tapping into open access connections and looking to solar as an alternate energy source.

During the COVID period, the executions were happening flawlessly; however, there were supply chain issues. But now, things have improved, and the whole process is streamlined.

We see India as a big market. I see India as a global player, where the balance between feed-in-tariff projects and open access projects are equally divided, and we see LONGi serving this market on a long-term basis.

Did the government’s flip-flop on ALMM affect your business?

Policy uncertainties exist in every market, and it is not a deterrent. I would like to add that the ALMM initiative was a good move by the government, but the execution was not flawless because of the COVID-related travel restrictions.

I believe the inclusion of other foreign countries will also happen soon. I am sure the regulatory authorities will take the necessary steps to include foreign companies in the list.

To have a quality manufacturing ecosystem, you need to have competition, and this can only happen when you have international manufacturers in the market. The same was the case with the automobile market. Only when international manufacturers entered the market did the quality of domestic manufacturing improve.

What is the current capacity of the equipment you are supplying in India?

We crossed the cumulative figure of 7 GW of module supplies to the Indian market last year.

For us, 2021 was a pathbreaking year when we supplied a total of 3.5 GW of solar modules to India. While 2022 was a bit sluggish because of regulatory and supply chain issues, we expect to be touching 10 GW very soon.

Is there any requirement you must fulfill to be a part of ALMM when it comes back?

We were among the first to apply for ALMM. But after that, the pandemic brought progress to a standstill.

Travel restrictions were put in place, and the government faced challenges in inspecting the factories. Now, I expect the authorities to take the necessary steps to conduct the inspection and include us in the list.

What makes LONGi a technological powerhouse, and what are the Indian module manufacturing companies competing with Chinese peers?

We have spent 23 years in innovation, and that makes us different. Excellence comes from vision, dedication, and experience. The prevalent technology is monocrystalline, and we have been the pioneers of monocrystalline technology.

With the Indian manufacturers, I believe they are more focused on assembling. They are not fully dedicated to research and development (R&D).

The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has recently tried incentivizing R&D spending. This will help, but it will take time for the domestic manufacturers to compete with their foreign counterparts.

The value of experience cannot come overnight. This is like a hand-in-hand approach where we will bring the latest module technology into the country and share our experience with our Indian counterparts.

It will take some time for domestic manufacturers to develop their capabilities, but it will happen. I expect the companies to start spending more on R&D and the large corporates to lead the way in this endeavor.

(Note: Sections of the interview have been paraphrased for better reading. Check out the video for a full chat)