Reverse bidding is not always the best friend for quality specifically in the Indian context, and this was also highlighted recently by PI Berlin study tour where the PV consultancy PI Berlin issued a report highlighting serious safety concerns, poor installation practices on system output monitoring, as well as a worrying lack of warranties. We foresee that these issues will only multiply in future and though the government is trying to bring in standardisation through BIS, they have not been able to address this problem in its entirety, believes Rohit Kumar, Head of Indian Subcontinent, REC Solar, and Director, REC India. In conversation with Manu Tayal, Associate Editor, Saur Energy International, Kumar shared his views on various issues which the renewable sector is currently dealing with alongwith his company’s latest product offerings, technological upgradation, future expansion plans if any etc. Here’re the excerpts from that exclusive interview published in the Saur Energy International Magazine’s August 2019 edition:
Q. What are your latest product offerings for Indian customers? Currently what opportunities does REC see in the Indian solar market?
At REC, we have always been pushing the technology envelope and with the breakthrough REC Alpha Series, we have set new benchmarks for the industry and ourselves. The Alpha delivers industry-beating power of up to 380 wattpeak (Wp), making this the world’s most powerful 60-cell solar panel. Based on proprietary panel design with revolutionary cell technology, the new product is already acknowledged by a granted design patent.
We are planning to bring this amazing panel to the discerning Indian customers very soon and shall be showcasing it during REI.
Q. On what technological advancements has REC been focusing?
We have forever strived to stay ahead of the technology curve be it the innovative TwinPeak design, getting N-Peak and now Alpha which is truly a unique product emerging from REC’s leadership in half-cut cell technology.
Alpha is built around 120 halfcut heterojunction cells (HJT) and advanced connection technology, designed by engineering experts from Germany and Singapore. With HJT, REC combines the benefits of crystalline silicon solar cells with those of thin film technologies for much higher efficiency and energy yield, even at higher temperatures.
Innovation is in our DNA! We have been delivering innovative products that are also accessible to a larger customer base and that’s been our driving motivation; to see more and more people adapting and shifting to high-quality solar systems. By riding the technology innovation wave, we are empowering people and corporations with clean solar energy and energy autonomy.
Q. Currently, what new technology trends you see in the module industry and how ready is REC for the same?
There are some very discernable trends that we spot currently in the market and it can be categorized as increasing focus for P Type Mono, incorporation of multiple- busbars and increasing wafer sizes. The industry is also moving towards higher watt-peak products and higher efficiencies in general.
At REC, we are moving one step ahead of this and with Alpha, we have been able to create a truly next generation product for rooftop customers who seek the best.
Q. What type of tests does REC solar modules have to pass-through before going on sale?
To say that we are obsessed with quality would not be understating the matter. Manufacturing excellence is something that REC is proud of and we are extremely particular about the testing, quality & standardisation of every single one of our modules. During the development of a product, all components are rigorously tested and the module undergoes qualification testing to 3 times the IEC standards.
These tests include the standard IEC certification tests, e.g., mechanical load, thermal cycling, humidity-freeze etc. Further to that, REC subjects each module type to a combined cycle test that includes all of the above and more – twice over! This is the best representation of performance in the real world where a single module can be exposed to all types of climatic conditions.
Besides this, REC’s module qualification process also includes the highest protocol PID and LeTID testing, as well as LID, a hot-spot endurance test, snail trail test, transportation testing, and more. So a whole range of design, safety, quality and performance testing that covers the whole spectrum expected of a solar module. Our dedication to quality does not stop there though.
After the development, when a product is in mass production, the testing continues with various stage checks, including two EL tests on every module. A visual inspection at the end ensures that every REC solar module leaves the factory in line with our stringent visual specifications. Likewise, production modules are pulled out at regular intervals to undergo reliability testing.
Here, the modules are subjected to testing in excess of the certification protocol at REC’s TDAP certified internal laboratory to ensure consistent compliance with expected standards – the TDAP certification means that REC’s test lab performs testing within the same constraints and standards as external certification laboratories.
We also have ongoing performance tests at our own sites and third-party sites to monitor real-world performance and gain a better overview of how REC modules perform in the field. With this kind of feedback coming into us, it places REC in the position of being able to quickly make changes and update our testing regime to really reflect the conditions seen in real life.
All of this enables us to provide solar professionals and end-users modules with a record low claims rate of far below 100ppm. Our industry-topping product (20 years + 5 years extra for installations carried out by REC certified installers) and power (at least 85.5 percent after 25 years of operation) warranties are a testament of this high-quality. For the Indian side, we were one of the first manufacturers to be certified by the BIS and the first European manufacturer in India.
Q. Do you have any manufacturing facility in India? Are there any new plans for India?
We are currently manufacturing our solar panels from only one location and that is Singapore. This has been REC’s strategic decision to ensure that we have the advantage of location and extremely high-degree of manufacturing automation with Industry 4.0 standards, but also high profile engineers. All REC panels supplied anywhere in the world are made at the Singapore factory.
Q. Presently, how easy or difficult is it to set-up a manufacturing facility in India for an overseas manufacturer?
The decision on manufacturing is strategic and based upon the holistic right environment. The biggest dilemma for most of the manufacturers having a plan for India is though it’s a huge market, the demand here is still for the legacy products whereas the industry is moving towards higher technologies. This is mostly on account of very low tariffs that you see in the utility scale making it unviable to bid with better technologies.
Also, the ancillary infrastructure is not in place and the supply side is not organized. Moreover, we also have been witnessing a policy whiplash of a kind where in the past one year alone, we have seen Safeguards, BIS, GST and now re-negotiation of long term PPAs!
All this makes it a very tough call and that’s why we have seen many companies having existing MOU with the state governments and land permits not moving ahead.
Q. As safeguard duty on import of solar equipment will drop to 20 percent from the current 25 percent in some time, what will be the impact?
The stipulated 5 percent drop in the prices won’t have much effect as the global prices have seen price- stabilisation in the last quarter. Also, the change would affect the timelines for the shipments, as people would like to take advantage of this, but won’t really change the market demand significantly. The impact would be higher in the Utility segment and not substantial in the rooftop segment overall.
Q. Recently, tariffs dropped to Rs 2.48/ kWh from approx. Rs 2.6/kWh in SECI auction, almost a year after we saw the price of Rs 2.44/kWh. Is quality going to be an issue at these costs? How does it impact the market sentiment overall and rooftop specifically.
Reverse bidding is not always the best friend for quality specifically in the Indian context, and this was also highlighted recently by PI Berlin study tour where the PV consultancy PI Berlin issued a report highlighting serious safety concerns, poor installation practices and system output monitoring as well as a worrying lack of warranties. We foresee that these issues will only multiply in future and though the government is trying to bring in standardisation through BIS, they have not been able to address this problem in its entirety. Also, there are spill-over effect that happens where these low bids impact the mindset of the rooftop customers into thinking that these rates are feasible for this segment as well. Which is rather improbable.