India's PV content conundrum

India does not have enough cost-competitive cell capacity – or manufacturers in a position to build it – to meet domestic-content PV rules, warns a major module assembler.

Delhi has set a target of 4-5GW of operational PV manufacturing capacity by the end of the National Solar Mission (NSM) second phase in 2017.

The country is keeping its head above water on the module side, with 1.5GW of capacity, according to Ivan Saha, Vikram Solar’s president and chief technology officer.

But Saha – formerly head of crystalline-silicon (c-Si) technology at Moser Baer – says a lack of cell capacity makes the domestic-content rule a “non-starter”.

Kolkata-based Vikram owns a 150MW module assembly plant, making it one of the country’s largest domestic suppliers.

The government has indicated that it will set aside at least 300MW of the 750MW of PV to be allocated in the next NSM tender round for projects using locally made kit.

Recent reports suggest the rules may tighten further. Regardless, Delhi has made clear that in future tender rounds the required amount of domestic content will rise to 100% for c-Si cells and modules.

The country has less than 600MW of operational cell capacity, Saha claims, adding that the domestic content rules represent "a very serious question mark hanging over India’s ability to execute its solar programme”.

“Most Indian cell manufacturers are in no position to ramp up production,” he says. "Most of the large manufacturers lost a lot of money over the last two or three years, and right now most of them are nowhere near competitive.”

Saha also points out that India has “almost zero capacity” for polysilicon or wafers. He did not divulge who supplies Vikram with cells.

Pressed on how the Indian PV industry – or government – will address this issue over the next few years, Saha acknowledges that there is no obvious solution.

In light of the defeat of Ontario's domestic content rules in the World Trade Organization, some analysts believe India may yet back away from its own rules.

But as they are currently written, they are“definitely not a good thing for the Indian solar industry at this stage”, Saha says.