Going against the trend of crystalline silicon technology in the solar power industry, Moser Baer plunged in to establish itself as a pioneer in thin film cells. Backed by its strong conviction, commitment and core competency in manufacturing, the company is today at the pinnacle of success. In conversation with Richa Chakravarty of Electronics Bazaar, Vivek Chaturvedi, chief marketing officer, Moser Baer Solar Ltd, shares the company’s strategies, future plans, its contribution to the solar sector, and the challenges faced in establishing a market for thin film cells
EB: In the field of solar power, where does India stand today when compared to countries like Germany?
The objectives of both the countries are different. Germany wanted to go green, hence it opted for solar, but for India, it is a case of providing access to electricity as the country is power starved. More than 40 per cent of the households in India do not have power connection. For India, it is a necessity to conserve its resources and in this process we are also going green. Germany has already evolved in this field, as it started out much earlier. India will also reach the same heights, if not, even go higher. What the mobile phone did to telecommunications, I believe solar energy can do to the power and energy scenario and touch the lives of more than a billion people. There is a need for players like Moser Baer to come up and change the paradigm. We have to play a major role, and in 8-10 years we can see India as the solar capital of the world. However, a strong ecosystem is needed before we can achieve that.
EB: Does this sector have the potential to meet the goals of the ambitious Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM)?
Last year, there was just 50 MW of solar power generating equipment installed within the country against the total 400-500 MW of solar panels manufactured here. Moser Baer alone produced 150 MW of solar panels, Tata BP Solar had a production of more than 100 MW, Indosolar also manufactured 150 MW, followed by Solar Semiconductor with 100 MW. We exported more than 95 per cent of our production because there was no demand within the country. However, the JNNSM and state government policies of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu are in the right direction. The launch of the JNNSM has definitely triggered the domestic solar market; this year the production capacity will be 700 MW and should touch 1 GW by next year.
EB: What is Moser Baer’s contribution to the booming Indian solar market?
In India, we invested US$ 1 million in thin film technology, and it was the first initiative taken by any manufacturer. This was a step taken five years back and today it is on the verge of paying off. Today, we are making investments on the installation of those panels in different farms. Our conviction about this technology was so strong that today we are not just a cell or module manufacturer, but also have a strong engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) team. Since there were no players in this segment, we ventured into EPC, and in the process we created a team of 200 people, which will go up to 450 in another six months.
Our inhouse team works on designing, procuring and constructing the farms for the group company and other clients in India. Currently, our plan is to install 100-200 MW of solar power generating capacity in India this year, which will be the first time in the world that such a large installation has been done within a span of nine months.
EB: What is Moser Baer’s current production capacity and what are your future expansion plans?
We have solar panel manufacturing plants in Greater Noida and our current capacity includes 100 MW of crystalline modules and 50 MW of thin film modules. However, we have doubled our capacity by commissioning a new production line in Greater Noida. With a next-generation line to develop thin film panels with 17 per cent efficiency, we are planning to expand our production capacity in Greater Noida. Also, our next round of expansion in Tamil Nadu is likely to take off next year.
There are around 1000 solar panel manufacturers across the world, but not even 50 of these make their own cells. This already differentiates Moser Baer from the others. That’s how we have greater control over our quality and can offer a 25 year warranty on our products. With our next round of expansion, we are looking to be a gigawatt company in the next three years.
EB: What strategies are you adopting to take this segment forward?
Along with other industry players, Moser Baer is playing a major role in taking the segment forward. In the EPC segment, India will evolve in the off-grid and on-grid market. The growth is coming from grid connected solar farms, and 95 per cent growth will be from this segment. But we are also making efforts to make the off-grid segment evolve equally. And that’s where solutions selling comes in.
EB: How difficult was it for Moser Baer to promote adoption of thin film technology?
It was quite difficult, as crystalline silicon technology is more popular and well tested. However, accepting a new technology always takes time. There is lack of information or, rather, misinformation about thin film technology in India. Once there is awareness, people will realise the benefits of this technology. Although thin films give 7 per cent efficiency as compared to 14 per cent by crystalline silicon panels, they still give more than 10 per cent (energy/power) kWhr than crystalline silicon panels.
Moreover, thin film is best suited in Indian conditions because of its response to high temperature, especially in places like Gujarat and Rajasthan, where surface temperature can go up to 65˚ Celsius. crystalline silicon really becomes inefficient in such situations as its yield drops dramatically. The temperature coefficient for crystalline silicon panels is 0.45 and thin film is 0.22, which means for every increase in temperature, the degradation in output will be half for thin film as compared to crystalline silicon. This is what we are trying to prove through our 5 MW farm installed in Gujarat. We are now setting up three 15 MW farms in Gujarat. We have also commissioned a thin film solar plant for the Maharashtra State Power Generation Company Ltd (Mahagenco) and one in Tamil Nadu.
EB: What kind of ecosystem is required in India for the solar market to boom?
An ecosystem is not about just the right policies, but also requires a huge demand and sufficient supply. It includes repair, maintenance, design, erection and installation, commissioning, systems engineering, as well as components and raw material. Right from land permits to the installation of a project, all aspects comprise what is called an ecosystem. There are not enough people in India who understand this concept, and the industry is still not mature enough. For example, in Germany, the entire country has been mapped by latitudes and longitudes, which makes it easy to calculate the number of kWhr energy you will get from an installation in 12 months. That kind of mapping is yet to happen in India. Of course, with the increase in investments in the solar power sector, there is room for developing a very good ecosystem.