Macro Economy

Solar energy prices to come down with tech breakthrough

M Ramesh Chennai | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on October 27, 2014

Big targets: The Government wants to see 15 GW by 2019.

In a few years, investment in polysilicon will pay off for the sector



As India gears up for solar projects under the recently-overhauled National Solar Mission programme, a breakthrough in polysilicon manufacturing promises to make solar energy at ₹6 or less per kilowatt-hour (kWhr) possible.

Across the world, solar technologists have been grappling with the issue of converting more of sun’s energy falling on solar panels into electricity. While chasing ‘efficiency’ has been the primary means of achieving cost-reduction, a US-headquartered company, which is active in India, has achieved a technological breakthrough in the manufacture of Polysilicon, a key raw material.

SunEdison’s “high pressure fluidised bed reactor” technology has made energy costs of producing polysilicon “irrelevant”, according to Pashupathy Gopalan, who head’s the US solar giant’s Asia-Pacific operations.

Effective

Conventional manufacturing processes consumes 40-50 kWhr of electricity to make a kilogram of polysilicon. In contrast, SunEdison’s FBR technology would need 3-5 kWhr. A corollary of this is the point that with energy costs coming down so drastically, it now makes sense to put up a polysilicon plant in India.

The FBR technology was recently implemented in a polysilicon plant in Korea, a joint venture of SunEdison and Samsung Fine Chemicals.

Cost factor

The technology will enable SunEdison — which is a solar power plant owner as well as a polysilicon and modules producer — to deliver ‘400 Watt peak’ modules at cost of 40 US dollar cents by 2016.

In simpler terms, this means you would need 25,000 of SunEdison’s modules per MW of solar power capacity, against 33,000 of conventional ones. As a result, the plant would call for lesser land and “balance of systems” such as electrical and civil work. Consequently, the costs will come down considerably and solar power developers could profitably sell their electricity at ₹6 a unit, Pashupathy Gopalan told BusinessLine.

Asked if SunEdison would put up a polysilicon plant in India, he noted that such a project would call for an investment of about $2 billion and a decision would depend upon the Government’s support. While India has the lure of the market, other countries are more attractive for large-scale projects.

The recently-reworked National Solar Mission has raised the targets. The Government wants to see 15 GW by 2019, as part of its 100 GW ambition, compared with the earlier target of 22,000 by 2020.

SunEdison owns about 100 MW of solar power plants in India, and is building a 100 more and is the largest foreign investor in the Indian solar sector.

Published on October 27, 2014
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