India Has to Keep Pace With Technological Innovations to Unlock Solar’s Potential
Panelists discussed innovations in the solar sector at the 'Mercom India Solar Summit 2022'
Technological innovations are very important for the growth of the solar sector in the country. We have new technological advancements every two to three years, making incumbent technologies obsolete.
India has a unique need to balance the need for competitive pricing and adopt advanced technologies to reduce the levelized cost of energy. The rest of the world has adopted larger size modules (M10 and M12), bifacial, n-type, and TOPCon. But in India, monocrystalline and polycrystalline modules still dominate the market.
Monocrystalline occupied a significant market share in 2021, while technologies like thin-film, bifacial, and HJT make up around 2%.
The two-day Mercom India Solar Summit 2022, which began on July 28 in New Delhi, discussed critical issues, opportunities, and emerging trends in the industry, including the government’s push for local manufacturing, its aggressive solar installation goal of 280 GW by 2030, supply chains, technology, and financing.
The event featured a session, ‘Solar Technology Innovations Poised to Take Over the Market’ on July 29, which discussed solar technologies beyond polycrystalline and monocrystalline passivated emitter and rear contact (PERC) that can take over the market.
The panelists were Deepak Ushadevi, MD & CEO, Ciel et Terre; Sishir Garemella, Head – International Business Development, PVEL; Rahul Khatri, Sales & BD Leader – South Asia, DuPont Photovoltaic Solutions; and Honey Raza, Head – Sales India, Solis.
The session was moderated by Priya Sanjay, Managing Director, Mercom India.
The panelists discussed new advancements, technologies, and products that can deliver cost savings that the solar market sorely needs.
Floating solar and other evolving technologies
Speaking on the economic feasibility of floating solar projects, Deepak Ushadevi noted, “Floating solar has been accepted as a viable alternative, and is fast picking up. In 2018, we had a total solar capacity of 1.5 MW -2 MW, but now it has increased to 200 MW of solar capacity. We have abundant water bodies in India and can use them for floating solar projects.”
“There are challenges in setting up a solar power project. These include access to water bodies and suitable materials for developing floating solar projects. We developed a 92 MW floating solar project in Kayamkulam in saline and humid conditions. A 600 MW floating solar park is also coming up on the Omkareshwar reservoir. We have set up a factory and are making floaters for the floating solar projects ourselves. The shortage of machines is also a factor, but we need to improvise to meet the demands,” he said.
Sharing his views on the technologies shaping the solar landscape, Ushadevi said that learning was essential for growth. There is scope for R&D in the Indian solar sector. “We are spending a lot on floating solar projects. We have converted lands into ponds for R&D purposes and are moving in the right direction. We have limitations in the solar supply chain, but we must grow from that,” he added.
Sishir Garemella concurred. “In the last five years, there has been a significant shift in the module technology market. There is a greater interest in mono PERC, half-cut, n-Type, TOPCon, and heterojunction technology (HJT). Technology is changing rapidly, and tracking the ever-evolving technological landscape isn’t easy. We have tested TOPCon, but HJT will be a bigger jump.”
“One important thing to note is that one technology may not be suited to varying climatic conditions. India is a big country, and climatic conditions vary significantly from one part of the country to the other. So, while deploying new technology, weather conditions must be taken into account. In the backdrop of changing weather patterns, the efficiency of modules and degradation factors acquire greater significance,” added Garemella.
The next step up in technology would be TOPCon and HJT. They are still in the nascent stage and expensive to manufacture and will continue to remain a niche or premium product until manufacturing processes improve for prices to drop.
Rahul Khatri noted, “Over the last three years, module technology has changed a lot, and it has changed the module manufacturing business significantly. One of the biggest changes in the recent past is the shift from monofacial to bifacial. Solar is such a technology that you invest in it for 25-30 years. We were stuck with obsolete technologies in the solar sector for quite a long time. But things are changing, and bifacials are more in demand.”
“Bifacials are the future, and their popularity is bound to grow with time. Now, transparent backsheets are in vogue, and soon we will have backsheets that can work in all conditions. TOPCon and HJT are also going to gain popularity soon. HJT will take some time, but the popularity of TOPCon is going to grow in the near future. The demand for transparent backsheet is also bound to grow, and the availability of glass will affect the production of transparent backsheets,” added Khatri.
Khatri said that the Indian market was a bit different from other markets. Nearly 80% of the installations were in the last five years. Most of the defects have occurred during the same period. “We need to focus on this and examine the modules’ quality aspect. It’s all about testing and taking the field conditions into consideration,” he said.
Shared his thoughts on the solar inverters market, Honey Raza said, “The demand for string inverters is growing, and we are well-equipped to cater to the market’s demand. There is a bit of uncertainty in the market, and the industry is moving toward 12-inch fabrication. The wattage capacity of modules is increasing, so we have to concentrate on the current level, which is around 17 Amp-19 Amp. The right combination of inverters and modules can help reduce the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) and increase the project’s overall efficiency.”
“The most critical component is the insulated gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) which can handle the current capacity so that the inverter can perform at its optimum level. So, to take care of the current capacity and heat management, IGBT is required. We need to have a reliable IGBT supplier who can cater to the demands,” Raza added.
Challenges in technology adoption
The main impediments to the development of the Indian solar market still lie in the policy and regulatory environment, unavailability of R&D infrastructure, and the fact that India is a cost-sensitive market.
Garemella said, “The solar supply chain is facing many issues, and India is also facing challenges due to supply chain disruptions. India will develop into a manufacturing hub in the next few years, and other countries are looking at India as a manufacturing base. There have been many policy flip-flops in the United States in the past few years, which puts India in a driving position as far as manufacturing is concerned.”
“Currently, the production and supply of polysilicon, wafers, and cells are controlled by one of two countries, and other countries are looking at India as a big market. There is a strong push by the government to make India a big manufacturing hub. After China, India is going to be the next manufacturing center. There is a need to focus on the quality of materials in the downstream market. There is a lot of volume to sell in India, and quality alignment is necessary. There will be a lot of capital flowing into India, so we must get our act together,” he added.
Highlighting the challenges in the solar inverter segment, Raza said, “In India, climatic conditions vary after every 500 km, and we must take care of the climatic conditions while designing the inverters. We must keep innovating whether we supply to utility-scale or residential projects. It’s a learning process, and we should ensure that these things are adequately tackled. Developers are now moving toward bifacials and thin-films, and we should be open to new technologies.”
“As of now, we are trying to optimize the product range, including the residential and commercial segments. In the last 12-18 months, the prices of raw materials have shot through the roof, and we are trying our best to strike a balance between the financials and sustainability of the projects,” Raza said.
Ushadevi predicted that renewables would be the next big thing, and climate change would drive it forward. “Currently, everyone is focussing on clean energy. I think renewables will have a big say in power generation in the coming years. By 2050, 50% of power has to come from renewable sources. The government is doing its bit to take the sector forward, and we must do our bit. Commodity pricing is important, but we must face it and move forward.”