India Looks to Become Less Reliant on Foreign Imports of Solar Tech

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India’s solar energy plans seem to have run into a spot of a bother.

The Indian government’s target is to boost installed solar power capacity more than five-fold to 100 gigawatt (GW) by 2022.

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The problem, though, is India meets about 85% of its solar cell demand through imports from China, and photovoltaic modules account for over half the costs of a solar project.

Now, the Indian government is left contemplating whether the domestic industry of solar cells and modules manufacturers should be “protected” from cheap imports. In that vein, the government is actively thinking of imposing an anti-dumping duty.

In a related development over last week, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has come out with a “concept note” for offering “direct financial support” of approximately U.S. $1.7 billion (Rs 11,000 crore), as well as a tech upgrade fund for solar manufacture. At the same time, it has said cell and module manufacturing capacity in the country is “obsolete.”

The concept note pointed India had installed capacity for producing 3.1 GW of cells and 8.8 GW of modules, but even this capacity was not being fully exploited because of obsolete technology. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy believes only 1.5 GW of cell manufacture and 3 GW of module manufacture is being used.

Now, as per the concept note, the Indian government aims to provide a 30% subsidy for setting up new plants, while also expanding existing ones. Heavy equipment required to set up projects shall also be exempt from customs duty, according to the scheme to be operated by the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency.

According to a news report, the Ministry’s note targets creation of solar cell manufacturing capacity of 10 GW over five years and includes interest subvention of 3% to manufacturers, setting up new capacity for loans taken through state-managed banks.

Cheap imports from China have brought down solar power tariffs to record lows, according to the Indian Solar Manufacturers Association. The latter has now petitioned the government to impose an anti-dumping duty on inbound shipments from China.

The concessions that the concept note speaks of are expected to bring down reliance on imports from China.

Already, there is a slowdown in fresh investments in this sector.

In November, tenders for new projects declined by 25% to 300 mega watt (MW) and auction of new offerings dropping by 98% to just 5 MW from levels of activity seen in October. According to the latest solar market update for the third quarter published by renewable energy market tracker Mercom Capital, a total of 1,456 MW of solar power projects was tendered and 1,232 MW auctioned in the period. The figures represented a marked reduction from the activity seen in the second quarter that saw 3,408 MW of solar projects tendered and 2,505 MW auctioned.

Meanwhile, the Directorate General of Safeguards and Anti-Dumping held the first oral hearing last Tuesday to investigate allegations of dumping imported solar cells and modules.

The domestic solar panel manufacturing industry, in a petition, had submitted that around 80% of the market had been taken away by imports. The domestic industry has taken the position that as imports harm the indigenous sector, a retrospective duty should be imposed on the importers. But this was challenged by some solar power project developers, who used the argument that silicon wafers required to make solar cells were also being imported, mainly from China, hence the domestic sector had no choice but to be dependent on imports.

The prices of panels have crashed to $0.32 per kWh from $0.50 per kWh in three years, owing to global over-capacity and “dumping” by China. The tariff for solar power projects has fallen by 80% in six years.

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All of the above could be music to the ears of the consumers … but not to the domestic manufacturers.

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