Even as the government is grappling with the issue of reducing India’s dependence on imported solar modules and cells and developing a domestic manufacturing industry, another sub-story is playing out on the export front. In 2019-20, India’s exports of solar modules and cells nearly doubled to $212.69 million (₹1,506 crore), compared with $121.08 million (₹847 crore) in the previous year.

In volume terms, exports rose 175 per cent to 6.9 million units in 2019-20, compared with 2.5 million in the year before.

While the numbers may be small in comparison with imports ($1.67 billion in 2019-20), the trend is significant because Indian manufacturers, such as Adani Solar, Tata Power Solar and Waaree, have been saying that with some support, they can take on the Chinese in the overseas markets.

“Our quality is not an issue,” says Ramesh Nair, CEO of Adani Solar, pointing out that in 2019-20, the company exported modules worth 400 MW to the US. Waaree’s Chairman and Managing Director, Hitesh Doshi, told BusinessLine that the company exported “a lot” to the US, pointing out that Waaree had recently received certification for its bifacial modules from the certifying agency, UL.


‘Solar’ movement

Indeed, India used to export a lot more a decade ago, at the time when the ‘solar’ movement was beginning to take root in Europe. In 2008-09, India exported modules and cells (cells are assembled to make modules) worth $533 million. That was when China started building meta-scale factories and brought down prices dramatically — from around $1.2 a Watt-peak a decade back, to $0.18 now.

Whether India’s modules and cells are of good quality or not, is a contentious issue. Manufacturers, obviously, speak highly of their products, backing their point with the fact that their stuff is sold even in the developed world.

Energy companies, however, are somewhat skeptical. At a recent webinar on the impact of the impending imposition of basic customs duty on imported modules and cells, Parag Sharma, CEO of O2 Power, said while protecting the domestic industry was fine, the manufacturers should ensure that they delivere quality products.

In a report in December 2017, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy had said that Indian modules and cells were “obsolete”.

Manufacturers respond to such criticism saying that they would invest in R&D if only there was some assurance of the market. At present, they are overwhelmed by competition from cheap imports.