Back after a two-year forced hiatus, REI 2022 was bigger and more energetic than ever, with more than 450 exhibitors and 30,000 visitors flocking the India Expo Center. The atmosphere on the show floor was both lively and positive, with international and local players alike excited at the prospect of India’s stated ambitions on renewable energy beginning to translate into reality. And though realizing these will be an uphill climb, the crowds on the show floor certainly look to be relishing the opportunity already.
Enormous manufacturing appetite
One thing that’s clear after this event is that India is making big moves into the world of PV manufacturing. Virtually every booth that pv magazine dropped in on had impressive expansion plans to announce, and local suppliers of virtually every system component were highly visible on the show floor, from modules, inverters and trackers, right down to encapsulants, metallization pastes, backsheets, junction boxes and every other bill of materials component.
India’s largest players Reliance and Adani made for the most impressive numbers, both sitting on plans for double-digit gigawatt production from raw materials down to finished PV modules, and expecting to start bringing these online within the first half of this decade.
But many other Indian manufacturers too had plans to announce for cell and module production still reaching well into gigawatt numbers – Jakson has plans for 2 GW of module production online by 2024, RenewSys is looking to expand its total capacity to 5 GW by 2025, Goldi Solar has plans to grow from 2 GW to 6 GW also by 2025, and Emmvee will add another 2 GW module and 1.5 GW cell capacity at its existing production sites by 2023.
Premier Energies plans to grow to 8 GW module, 4 GW cell, and 2 GW ingot/wafer by 2025 from existing 2 GW module and 750 MW cell (182 mm mono PERC) capacity.
Saatvik, which has 1.5 GW module capacity at present, will add 2 GW of new cell and module capacity by December 2023. Pixon Energy will expand its cumulative module capacity to 2 GW by early 2024, from 400 MW at present.
There’s a wide mix of technologies among these announcements. Established players like Renewsys state that they can still manufacture and find a domestic market for several hundred MW of multicrystalline modules, for at least the next year. Meanwhile, Reliance is looking to integrate cutting edge technologies that not yet even commercialized at its Jamnagar site, along with the “Alpha” heterojunction (HJT) technology championed by cell and module maker REC Group that it acquired in 2021.
Many smaller players are sticking with established module designs for the time being, and the question of technology pathways hung in the air during the event. REC is among the only players to make a firm commitment to HJT manufacturing in India. Other players plan to wait and see how early movers in HJT elsewhere in the world play out. In the meantime their plans are focused on PERC and possible upgrades to TOPCon further down the line.
Uncertainty in the detail
India’s commitment to supporting renewable energy growth is no doubt impressive, with centrally set installation targets, the production linked incentive, basic customs duty and other policies all key drivers behind growth in renewable across India.
Conversations at this year’s show, however, reveal a few pockets of uncertainty lying in the detail that could ultimately have significant impacts. IHS Markit analyst Dharmendra Kumar told pv magazine that a possible exemption from the basic customs duty for projects approved before March 2021 could drive a huge installation rush at the start of next year, and see as much as 5 GW installed in the first quarter of calendar year 2023.
Kumar also noted that, besides this policy, module prices will largely dictate installation numbers for next year, and that decreased value of Indian currency also poses a challenge, noting that for Indian customers buying in US dollars, recent exchange rate fluctuations have pushed costs up from INR 75/W to around INR 81/W.
For now, India’s ambition as a global leader renewable is not backed up by a skilled work force of the size that will be needed to run it. Speaking during a CTO Conclave session held on the second day of the event, Joseph Holzer, CTO of crystal growth and wafering at Reliance New Energy noted that this company alone was looking to recruit several thousand engineers and technicians to operate its site in Jamnagar.
Other experts at the session concurred that training and recruiting the people that will operate this planned capacity is one of several areas where further assistance might be needed. And this trend was also evident on the show floor, with “we are recruiting” signs a common sight on the booths of companies from all industry segments, and some even seemingly looking to interview prospective new employees during the show.
And for many this combination of fast-developing plans with little history to rest them on is already raising a few red flags, with suppliers all along the value chain warning that outside of the bigger players, many other companies are moving into PV manufacturing with limited process knowledge, and are keen to go with the lowest cost suppliers for all their components. At project level too, developers sacrificing quality to lower up front costs is an issue that was raised more than once: During the CTO Conclave session, Ido Molad, VP of R&D at robotic cleaning supplier Ecoppia shared details of projects seeing major soiling losses due to unwillingness to invest in cleaning solutions, or even projects where low-cost cleaning solutions had broken down, leading to even heavier losses.
And several have noted that, for technology suppliers in particular, the more experienced players largely in China and Europe will likely set up shop and begin both manufacturing and training staff on the ground in India. And it’s likely also that local Indian players will also gain strength alongside this.
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