Shirdi Sai Electricals to Bid for PLI-II, Expand Manufacturing Capacity to 10 GW
The firm is currently setting up a polysilicon-to-module plant in Andhra Pradesh
February 7, 2023
With an estimated 220 GW of solar capacity required by the decade’s end to meet the 280 GW goal set by the government, India needs a significant manufacturing capacity ramp-up. The allocations under the production-linked incentive (PLI) program are expected to contribute significantly towards the manufacturing capacity requirements.
According to Mercom India Research’s ‘State of Solar PV Manufacturing in India’ report, India had a solar cell manufacturing capacity of approximately 4.7 GW as of September 2022, which is expected to increase sevenfold by the end of the calendar year 2024.
In November 2021, Shirdi Sai Electricals, through its SPV – Indosol Solar, was awarded a PLI of ₹18.75 billion (~$229.03 million) for a capacity of 4 GW. The company is in the process of constructing an integrated photovoltaic manufacturing plant from polysilicon-to-module near Nellore, Andhra Pradesh.
In an exclusive interview with Mercom India, Dr. Balachander Krishnan, Chief Operating Officer, Indosol Solar, special purpose vehicle (SPV) of Shirdi Sai Electricals, talks about the company’s progress after its successful PLI bid.
Here are the excerpts from the interview –
What is your company’s progress in establishing capacities under the PLI program?
We intend to start the construction activities for 4 GW of individual capacities for ingots, wafers, cells, and modules, along with a glass factory of around 5 GW capacity. For our manufacturing units, we have received approvals from the state government of Andhra Pradesh for 5,147 acres of land. The location is finalized at Ramayapatnam, located in between Nellore and Ongole – Southeast coast, where even the state government is planning to construct a port. This will help us with the logistics.
We plan to start the construction sometime in April, and we are in the final stages of evaluating the equipment, utility, and EPC vendors.
The construction along with the required utility implementation typically takes about a year, so we should be able to complete it by April 2024, followed by move-in, installations, and commissioning for the next two months and another 2-3 months for ramping up to production to achieve the required KPIs.
What is the module technology you are currently setting up, and why?
For the initial 4 GW, we intend to go with a mix of PERC and TOPCon technology in conjunction with the current market requirements. Our reasoning behind this is, that all PERC lines can be easily upgraded into TOPCon technology when the market is ready. Using the TOPCon line, we will invest in the R&D part and learn all the operation nuances, ideally taking about a year or so. By then, the market should be completely ready to embrace TOPCon technology completely. We could then simply change the existing PERC lines to TOPCon within a maximum of 2 to 3 months.
However, TOPCon continues to have some process issues leading to a lesser yield at 94%, compared to PERC, where the expected yield is 97% with very less breakages/B-grade cells/electrical rejects/final optical rejects, etc. Once this yield gap is met, most manufacturers will switch their manufacturing completely to TOPCon technology. Also, the silver paste laydown (consumption) for TOPCon technology is almost double that is used for PERC technology, which is expected to reduce over the next two to three years as the technology evolves.
There are primarily two main product roadmaps, which most manufacturers consider while deciding their technology route: PERC to TOPCon, which can then be converted to TOPCon-IBC (TBC) or even TANDEM. The other route is HJT to heterojunction back contact (HBC), and then eventually shift to TANDEM. Currently, the market potential is higher for the TOPCon route because of the lesser manufacturing costs, logical upgrade from PERC to TOPCon for the existing manufacturers, and higher theoretical efficiencies (28.7%), almost 1.2% higher than HJT (27.5%), which also seems to be lagging in terms of financing in CAPEX as well as OPEX. TANDEM, which is what we call perovskites, still has reliability issues, and we doubt it will ever expand on a market scale. They may have a niche application like perovskite on glass etc. but can never replace or compete with the mainstream c-Si.
What is Shirdi Sai’s outlook for the next five years?
We intend to target the export markets, mainly the EU, U.S. as well as domestic markets. With new planned PLI capacities to be announced, we expect it to be enough to supply both domestic markets and export. We are currently building a 4 GW capacity plant but eventually want to take it to 10 GW in multiple phases for this project. The 10 GW will be each segment covering Ingot, wafer, cell, module, and glass manufacturing.
For PLI (Tranche-I), we qualified for 4 GW, and according to the MNRE/IREDA, we are eligible to apply for a capacity of 6 GW in PLI (Tranche-II), which we intend to apply for, and if we do qualify for it post bidding, we will set up 10 GW facilities post the initial 4 GW capacity. However, PLI alone will not be the driving factor for us to reach 10GW capacity.
Does India have enough bill of materials (BOM) component supply to support the upcoming manufacturing capacities?
While we can easily source most of the BOM components for the module, glass seems to be the toughest one to procure due to the shortage of capacities in the country. With three players qualifying for the PLI program and expected to come up with 10 GW capacity each, we ought to face a shortage of glass supply, which is just typically 4-5 GW now. Some of us are now planning our own capacities for captive consumption.
Indian BOM component manufacturers still have a long way to go to meet the quality standards as the segment is very new, and thus, the dependency is still on imports.
How are you managing the polysilicon price fluctuation challenge?
The biggest issue is polysilicon prices. In mid-December, it went up to $44 per kg, then it was down to $20 per kg in early January, and now it is back to $27 to $28 per kg. The reason behind this huge fluctuation is that many polysilicon capacities came only after mid-December and then went up again because of the delay in contract signings. We predict the prices will go down to $15 per kg by the end of 2023.
We don’t see any other problems for the downstream part except for ingot making, where polysilicon is required as a charging input material. Securing a polysilicon contract at least a year in advance is crucial to obtain the required purity, considering the price fluctuations. We can’t say if the purchasing price is competitive or not.
Do you think Indian manufacturers can match up to their Chinese counterparts anytime soon?
Even with BCD, the Chinese still have a significant hold a significant market share in India, as their prices are comparatively lower (volume of scale) with better quality (comes with experience), because India still doesn’t have to produce the raw materials for manufacturing Ingot-wafers (crucible, hot-zone, diamond wire saw), Cell ( silver paste, screens, specialty gases, etc). It takes several years of research to get the requisite quality of silver paste (with required conductivity and cost competitiveness) that could be used for a solar cell, and no manufacturer in India is ready to invest in it. There has been no progress in silver paste manufacturing in the country. Indian solar cell manufacturers depend majorly on imports of specialty gases like Silane, ammonia, N20, BCI3, TMAI, BCI3, etc., used in cell manufacturing.
Also, it’s important that the Indian government must consider announcing PLI for solar equipment manufacturing, which could set up a basic platform in the next five years to create a complete manufacturing ecosystem.
According to recent news, China is considering an export ban on ingot and wafer equipment, which will hurt us a lot, in case it happens because Indian labor is still fairly new when it comes to ingot and wafer manufacturing. We have skilled labor and other resources available for cell and module manufacturing but not for the latter. We have other potential equipment suppliers from Korea, Germany, and the U.S. to rely on, but they are mostly into semiconductor-grade manufacturing and not solar-grade, which would make the equipment a few times more expensive, pushing the CAPEX out of the roof. Although the ban is not finalized yet and is still in consultation, we still have some glimmer of hope that it would not continue. We, as manufacturers, have to be prepared for such a setback anyway.