Say they are more expensive, less efficient than imported ones

India-made solar cells are of poor quality, less efficient and more expensive than imported cells, solar power project developers have said in a letter to the government.

They have also said that although cell manufacturers claim they have the capacity to produce more than 800 MW of cells, in reality only about 150 MW is available — as many units are shut either due to financial constraints or because of outdated equipment.

The National Solar Energy Federation of India has sent the letter to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI). The federation is a body of all stakeholders in the solar industry, and includes manufacturers too. SECI is a public sector company recently set up to drive solar power in India.

Solar mission

The complaint assumes significance against the backdrop of the government’s efforts to create 375 MW of solar photovoltaic plants with domestic cells. The Phase II of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission recently called for bids to set up 750 MW of solar projects.

Of them, 375 MW would come up with ‘domestic content requirement’ and the rest could use imported cells. Bidders ask for an upfront ‘viability gap funding’ of the government, given that they have to sell their electricity to SECI at a specified rate (₹5.45 a kWhr). The lower they ask, the higher the chances of bagging the mandate to set up a solar project and sell power. Although the ‘open’ category attracted more bids, 22 companies have emerged winners for the 375 MW of projects under the ‘domestic content requirement’ category.

(25 companies have won under the ‘open’ category, though several companies have bid and won under both categories. The Power Purchase Agreements with these winning bidders are expected to be signed shortly.)

The domestic content requirement, incidentally, is an issue over which the US has dragged India to a WTO court.

Insufficient capacity

Now, the developers feel that the 375 MW with domestic cells cannot be put up — primarily because there is not enough capacity to produce that many cells, but also because whatever is produced is not of quality. “Domestic Solar Cells stand at a higher risk in terms of reliability issues. Visual defects in the form of Print Defects, Bowed Cells and finger interruptions are common. Electroluminescence (EL) Image of cells reveals lot of defective cells with Body and Edge Shunts and Dead Cells which actually impacts reliability,” said the Managing Director of a leading solar plant builder.

“The cost of solar cell produced by Indian manufacturers is not at all competitive to their international counterparts. The price difference between the domestic solar cell and Indian solar cells is between 30 to 35 per cent despite being far inferior in quality,” he said.

Business Line sent the Federation’s letter to a few manufacturers for comment, but did not receive any response till the time of going to press.

(This article was published on March 25, 2014)
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