Chief of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) has invited stakeholders to be part of the global body's March summit in large numbers. Together, with other members of the industry, he also lauded the ASAPP Info Global Group New Delhi seminar - organised for Anchor Electricals - to deliberate and address challenges in the area of solar technology.
An overwhelming number of solar projects are proposed to be signed on the eve of the International Solar Alliance's (ISA) New Delhi summit on March 11. Speaking at a round table conference on Golden Triangle: Integrating EPC, BOS and Energy Auditors in Delhi, Upendra Tripathy, Full Time Interim Director General, ISA said, 'On March 10, one day before the summit, we are going to sign 121 projects both in India and outside. If anyone of you is an entrepreneur or developer, industry person or banker, you can register and be a part of it.'
The big-ticket international summit is being organised to commemorate the founding of the global solar body. UN Secretary General António Guterres, French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are expected to grace the occasion together with representatives of 49 other member countries.
Extending an open invitation to seminar delegates to visit the organisation's leafy campus at Gwal Pahari in Gurugram, Haryana, Tripathy said that the country was very fortunate to have got the ISA headquarters in India despite facing stiff competition from countries like Austria, Germany and UAE.
The seminar on Solar Technology was powered by Anchor Electricals in association with Solar Today and Power Today on January 31, 2018.
Showing his appreciation for the agenda, Tripathy said it was the quality of technology used that contributed to long-term quality of a solar project. Sharing an anecdote from his recent visit to the French National Solar Energy Institute (INES) near Paris, he told of his meeting with a young researcher who was trying to develop a technology to solarise the smartphone. The person also told him that there were 1.4 billion smartphones globally, with the number expected to swell to four billion over the next three years. Charging of mobiles using solar energy will alone save the world 5 million MW of conventional power. Tripathy then mentioned about the research activities in the Department of Materials Engineering at Monash University, Australia, that were focused on the development of low-cost and light weight photovoltaic alternatives to silicon wafer-based solar cells. The move from silicon to non-silicon would help in reducing the carbon footprint of the solar sector.
Elaborating on ISA's own initiatives in propagating efficient technology, he observed, 'Of the 121-member countries, 20 have national solar energy centres. But most countries need a lot of strengthening of infrastructure for testing, standard setting, quality control, innovation, R&D and capacity building. To that end, ISA plans to start STAR-C (Solar Technology Application and Research Centre).' There was a plan to build a global centre of excellence in India and ten centres of excellence in different member countries under the organisation's umbrella. 'The centres of excellence will network with 12 more countries to conceive a chain of command, which won't be hierarchical,' he added. This endeavour would be undertaken with the objective to ensure that all ISA members have basic infrastructure in place to ensure quality of goods and services supplied.
Tripathy said that the successful operation of India's first solar-powered ferry Aditya in Kerala and e-boats in Varanasi on the Ganga had tremendous implications for all members. He also pointed out that Prime Minister Modi was very emphatic on farmers being the first beneficiaries of ISA's initiatives.
In his welcome address, Murli Krishna, AGM Sales, Anchor Electricals said, 'As an investor, one thinks of the return on investment or the payback period after installing a solar project. But many people fail to factor in the Balance of Systems (BOS) in terms of module, inverter and structure as they too matter a lot.'
It was not just about recovering the investment within a certain timeframe, but also ensuring that the system continued to perform well several years down the line. 'As selection of materials is very important, everyone from a supplier to developer must take the quality aspect seriously,' said Krishna.
Alluding to some recent instances of systems failing within a few years of a project being installed, he emphasised, 'We must be able to provide justification as well as do justice to the product being supplied in terms of quality.'
In his very brief presentation, Pratap Padode, Managing Director, ASAPP Info Global Services pointed out that as with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA)-promoted Smart Cities Mission, sustainable projects were the need of the hour in the solar energy sector too. 'Bankable projects that can sustain themselves with finance that is provided are the need of the hour,' he said.
TIMES OF UNCERTAINTY
A panel discussion on Solar Technology: Quality Pays Off was also held on the occasion. Moderator Prafulla Pathak, Secretary General, Solar Energy Society of India (SESI) opened the dialogue by thanking Solar Today identifying a very important topic. He noted that given the rapid pace of developments in the country's solar energy sector since 2014, it was important to ensure quality of projects. 'Are we maintaining quality or there is more that needs to be done?' he asked. 'At a time when we are in a rat race, we also need to look after safety, security and sustainability.'
Randeep Bora, Head of Govt Business, Cleanmax Solar said that recent studies had revealed that instances of damage caused to solar panels had almost doubled in the past few years. Earlier, it was more on the inverter side, but of late, the problem had shifted to modules due to various quality aspects that have hampered the entire sector.
'As India has been scaling-up on solar projects, certain issues have been neglected. In order to get higher returns at the initial bidding stage, we consider lower numbers on the cost side to optimise returns. While executing a project one feels the stress of compromising on quality at some point.' He felt that it was very important to thoroughly analyse quality of modules and inverters at the initial stage itself so that when the system was actually deployed it ran its full course. Bora stressed on regular maintenance cycles to obtain the desired yield upon completion of a project.
He also asserted that it was important to work with realistic expectations, assumptions and parameters.
Ritu Lal, Vice President Business Development, Amplus Solar said the opex model employed by her firm ensured that customers were protected from all risks, including those of quality. She observed that despite the rapid expansion of solar farms, tremendous amount of growth was also happening in the rooftop segment. 'Both have a role to play. If you ask me whether 40 GW of rooftop solar is achievable in India, it will be at least double of that, though I can't give a time frame. We have barely scratched the surface.' The high growth had resulted in a tug-of-war between the seemingly opposite poles of cost and quality. 'But if you ask me, cost and quality lead you in the same direction, especially with goods and services that have a long shelf life. So, cost of a project must never be compromised at the cost of quality,' opined Lal.
Carelessness often compromised quality. Lal spoke about workers installing solar panels while sitting atop them! Or in another incident, she spoke about visiting a site where modules were being scrubbed with a toilet cleaner to make them sparkle! Lal felt that since renewable energy was something that will benefit future generations, one couldn't afford to take a casual approach. Therefore, along with centralised norms, adequate infrastructure was also required on the ground so that the guidelines didn't end up becoming bottlenecks. Similarly, it was important to have an access to reliable data on performance of each installed module. She urged Indian manufacturers to innovate products that suited local needs or else 'Make in India' would never take-off.
Raghunath Mahapatra, Head of Solar, Hero Future Energy said that since the solar story had just started it was still not clear what shape it would take. 'One good thing that comes out of confusion is that it means things are not stable and still evolving. This is a good sign. Those who will survive this phase will lead in the future.'
He said that cost of providing a service had a direct bearing on quality. He mentioned about the time when Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) were signed for anywhere between Rs 13-15. High costs ensured that developers were never under pressure to compromise on quality. 'Given all the present parameters, how do you ensure quality? In terms of the business environment we are grappling with lot of uncertainties with no definitive answers. Quality today is not a function of commitment, capability or quality, it is a function of uncertainty,' he remarked.
In Mohapatra's opinion, more than anything else, quality was primarily a cultural thing. He was of the view that rather than trying to control input costs, developers must rationalise price of their output. He emphasised on developing a trust quotient in order to build strong collaborations. It was also important to establish linkages with overseas institutes as well as evolve a suitable policy framework to create a culture of compliance, he added.
Giving the analogy of the transformation in the India's telecom space over the years, Pathak said that there is bound to be a transformation in the solar sector too. 'Solar sector is at a stage where we don't know what might happen next. But, we have keep on moving to get the best out of it.'
The seminar concluded with an elaborate presentation by Krishna on the various product lines that Panasonic Corporation is presently engaged in. The company, which acquired the 50-year old Anchor Electricals 2007 years ago, was not just a distribution company, but also had manufacturing facilities in India. 'We have eight manufacturing facilities, including ten factories across the country,' he said. He informed that supplies of solar modules being supplied to the company's India, South Africa, South Asia and Africa region was done from India.
Panasonic started R&D in solar in 1975. The corporation came out with HIT or Heterojunction with Intrinsic Thin layer solar cell for better conversion efficiency. The product has been commercially available since 1997. Nearly 4 GW of installations from that time are still operational worldwide, with minimal degradation. In 2012, Panasonic launched a module manufacturing facility in Malaysia. Compared to other modules, HIT modules take much less space.
Panasonic also manufactures lithium ion batteries for automobiles manufactured by Tesla Inc. Moreover, as part of the 2016 agreement inked with the US-headquartered developer of electric vehicles and energy storage systems, it makes high-efficiency PV cells and modules in the non-solar roof products segment at Tesla's Buffalo plant.
- Manish Pant