Independent Testing Key for Indian Solar Module Makers to Export: Interview
Commitment to timelines and a skilled workforce vital for exports
Independent and reliable testing labs for solar modules ensure that even small manufacturers without an established brand name can distinguish themselves based on their quality. It also comforts project developers who have been buying the product for the last 30 years and more, Sishir Garemella, Head of International BD at PVEL, said in an interview on the sidelines of the Mercom India Renewables Summit 2023.
Here are the excerpts from the interview.
Tell us about PVEL’s services.
PVEL is a reliability testing lab based out of California and performs tests on solar modules for downstream companies in the U.S. or any other market.
These companies could be in the engineering, procurement, construction business, developers, financiers— anybody buying solar modules. They ask for rigorous testing to ensure that the panels are good to run for 25-30 years or more.
All leading global manufacturers would send us their modules, and we put them in our flagship program called Product Qualification Program, which involves a long 7–8-month lab process plus a 12-month field program.
We have designed this program to mimic real-world conditions for 25 years to see how these modules work under duress.
While we have primarily been in the U.S. over the years, we have developed pockets of manufacturing testing outside the U.S. in the last couple of years.
India’s solar module exports picked up last year. What’s your take on the quality of products manufactured in the country?
There are better ways to look at solar than associating quality with a certain brand name. Our program has steps where we distinguish ourselves from any other regular certification testing.
The first step is witnessing the modules manufactured before us, removing the golden sample risk. After that, these modules are shipped to California, where they are tested on a program that assesses the underlying material. So the brand is of little concern.
It is more to do with how materials work with the rigorous testing conditions of heat, humidity, cold, and everything that represents the field conditions.
For example, thermal cycling ISC6125 stipulates 200 cycles, we do 600; damp heat is for 1,000 hours, and we do 2,000 hours.
It is an unbiased third-party independent view on things as they are.
What’s your role in facilitating Indian module manufacturers looking to export?
Many countries pushing for local manufacturing have local demand with mature private equity and asset managers, but they also have an ambition to export because a country like the U.S. needs huge quantities for deployment.
They seek a China+1 strategy. If India or any other country wants to sell to the U.S. or any other mature market, going through the quality and reliability rigor is very critical.
We position ourselves as an independent lab for two reasons: on the upstream side, manufacturers can equip themselves with the quality and reliability parameters versus other competitors in the market.
On the downstream side, we provide comfort to developers that we have seen the testing. And especially when the module technology is rapidly changing, like Mono PERC, TOPCon, and HJT. And the latest isn’t necessarily the best.
So, both from upstream and downstream perspectives, quality is of utmost importance at this stage of solar evolution.
What should Indian manufacturers know to become good at exports?
The owner of a plant is becoming more mature, they are becoming larger, so you have large sizes of pension funds coming in. And they value warrantee, and they value word, law, and spirit. If you look at the U.S., if there is a claim on the insurance or a fault, they will get after you and ensure you correct it.
So, a general approach away from the lackadaisical attitude is to be more serious about relationships with the buyer.
Now, how is that demonstrated? Apart from independent testing, a skilled workforce, and commitment to the timelines, anybody committed to the word and walks the talk is respected and valued. We have seen many companies from India doing well in the U.S. in the past few years.
There was a time when the entire value chain was concentrated in one country. Europe is a big consumer of solar because of geopolitical reasons, the U.S. is a large consumer, and India has its net zero ambitions also, along with other countries.
We have evolving demand centers everywhere, but you also have supply centers being formed in Turkey and India, among other places.
(Note: Sections of the interview have been paraphrased for better reading. Check out the video for the full interview)