Developing Indigenous Technology Key to Solar Manufacturing in India: Interview

It is essential to change the perception that Indian products are inferior to others


Gradually indigenizing the technology used in solar module manufacturing and creating products that cater specifically to the unique market conditions in India could help India advance towards becoming a manufacturing hub, Shubra Mohanka, Director at Gautam Solar, commented in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of Mercom India Renewables Summit 2023.

Below are some excerpts from the interview:

How does the policy change of ALMM suspension impact you specifically?

The ALMM (Approved List of Models and Manufacturers) protection benefited all manufacturers, including Gautam Solar. We witnessed significant growth and expansion, with plans for capacity increase and vertical integration still in progress. Although the policy reversal is for only one year, time tends to pass quickly, and some level of protection is necessary.

Fortunately, the BCD (Basic Customs Duty) is still in place and provides some support. Additionally, we have established partnerships through free trade agreements with Malaysia and Vietnam, allowing resources to continue trickling in. However, price pressure remains a concern.

As a manufacturer, our primary focus is changing the perception that Indian products are inferior to Chinese. We strive to provide products that are at par, if not better. I don’t believe the policy reversal will completely destroy the industry.

While it somewhat dampens our spirits, we are still determined to proceed with our plans for capacity expansion and technological advancements.

How do you see the nascent indigenous technology competing with the Chinese technologies over time?

I believe in challenging the perception that our technology is inferior to that of Chinese manufacturers. Let’s take Gautam Solar, for example. We have filed patents that cater specifically to the unique market conditions in India.

Our country has immense pricing pressure on EPC developers, and projects must be delivered within strict timelines and cost constraints.

We have developed panels with an outward panel frame design to address this, reducing fasteners by half. This innovation significantly reduces labor time and installation costs, which is highly relevant and beneficial for the Indian market.

Furthermore, we have recognized the heavy reliance on Chinese equipment in the industry, which poses challenges regarding service support and technological compatibility.

As a solution, we have embarked on a journey of developing our machines, gradually indigenizing the technology used in solar manufacturing setups. This approach allows us to address the limitations associated with imported Chinese equipment and enhance our service support capabilities.

Our focus as a technical player in the solar industry is to continually invest in research and development, driven by the demands we observe in the market. We are confident in developing unique solutions tailored specifically to the Indian market. While Chinese manufacturers may develop products with a global perspective, we aim to provide India-centric solutions that resonate with developers and EPC players in our country, making a substantial difference.

Could you provide insights into the technology you currently employ for module production, any recent upgrades and the capacity utilization of each technology?

Currently, our main product line involves the production of 550W ten busbar modules, which utilize half-cut technology. However, we have plans to transition to n-type and TOPCon modules by the end of this quarter. One notable aspect we are observing is the increase in efficiencies.

Many companies are moving directly from 10 busbars to 16 busbar modules – a significant technological leap for n-type and Topcon modules. Interestingly, there seems to be no intermediate option of 12 busbar modules. This technological change is something we are closely considering.

In addition, we are also exploring the potential of HJT technology. Although we haven’t extensively explored it yet, we are interested in understanding its benefits in terms of efficiency and determining how we can leverage it.

It’s worth noting that the machines and processes involved in HJT technology may differ significantly, so further investigation is required to assess its viability for our operations.

What factors influenced Gautam Solar’s decision not to participate in the government’s supportive initiatives, such as the PLI (Production Linked Incentive) program?

The primary reason for not participating in Tranche 1 and Tranche 2 of the government’s initiatives was the substantial financial investment required upfront. However, Gautam Solar remains highly interested in the PLI program and is currently focused on independently increasing its production capacity.

Despite the financial aspect, the main challenge that influenced the decision was the dependence on external suppliers for cell technology and equipment. The rapidly evolving nature of cell technology, similar to module technology, raised concerns about the technical feasibility and long-term maintenance.

Gautam Solar has established a dedicated team focused on cells and wafers to address this. The company is actively seeking additional opportunities and is optimistic about potential openings, particularly if Adani does not participate in future tranches.

How do you view the recent trend of increased exports, despite the relatively small numbers? Do you consider this trend sustainable, and is your company looking to export?

We are actively considering the export market and see it as a significant opportunity. The United States’ ban on Chinese solar panels has opened a window of opportunity for Indian manufacturers.

The performance of Indian panels has been well-received, leading to increasing interest in Indian solar panels and factories. The important role played by PM Modi in putting India on a global stage cannot be underestimated.

Foreign leaders have expressed their preference for dealing with Indian manufacturers due to concerns with Chinese suppliers, such as delivery timelines. From a public relations and overall image perspective, even Europe is seeking alternatives to Chinese suppliers and welcoming Indian players. We are participating in events like Intersolar Munich in June, where we have been receiving positive responses and an optimistic outlook.

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