Critical To bring Quality Standards Within The Solar Energy National Ecosystem

Highlights :

Mayur Karmarkar, Managing Director, International Copper Association writes about the need to maintain transparent and enforceable quality standards to meet solar goals

Critical To bring Quality Standards Within The Solar Energy National Ecosystem
Mayur Karmarkar, International Copper Association writes on quality standards in solar

Mayur Karmarkar

India’s commitment to achieving net-zero status by 2070, along with its pursuit of a greener transition, underscores the critical significance of solar power within portfolio of renewable energy. In a nation where approximately 5 billion GWh of energy is incident per year, with many regions receiving between 4 to 7 kWh per square meter daily, an immense untapped potential is evident.

As a progressive stride toward this greener transition, India has targeted the installation of 280 GW of solar capacity by 2030. Notably, by July 2023, a substantial 70 GW has already been installed. Solar energy not only presents economic advantages but also holds the capacity to establish an enduringly sustainable environment for future generations, while catering to India’s burgeoning energy requirements. Hence, it is paramount to establish an efficient and dependable solar energy ecosystem.

A recent study jointly conducted by International Copper Association India (ICAI), Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI) and National Solar Energy Federation of India (NSEFI) stated that technical and performance risks rank third in terms of priority among the risks associated with solar power plants. These risks, with a severity of 14.7%, are linked to equipment performance in comparison to the manufacturer’s guaranteed technical benchmarks. Mitigating these risks can be achieved through the careful selection of high-quality modules and adhering to standardized Balance of Systems (BoS) components. While design, material selection plays crucial role in getting the right output one can not ignore man and his skill on ground that can impact the reliability and energy output prematurely.

Furthermore, another study conducted in Spain and Italy has revealed that the failure of BoS components contributes significantly to energy loss. Observations revealed that, despite constituting only 4% of EPC costs (the aggregate engineering, procurement, and construction costs), transformer failures can result in a substantial 35% energy loss. In line with India’s expansion of renewable energy systems, to enhance the efficiency and energy generation of solar power plants, the production of reliable and quality BoS components becomes crucial. Achieving this objective can be accomplished by implementing a standardized system design for BoS equipment, encompassing components like transformers, inverters, DC and AC cables, among others. Additionally, imposing more substantial penalties for failing to meet performance parameters can incentivize adherence to these standards.

Under the current regulatory framework, modules and inverters are outlined as standard equipment, subject to extensive international and Indian standards. In 2015, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) also established technical standards for several components, including transformers, mounting structures, and cables. Another set of standards was introduced in 2020, specifically addressing cables with a 1,500 V (DC) rating. However, neither of these sets of standards is explicitly incorporated in the tenders issued by entities such as the Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) and other government agencies.

Additionally, multiple gaps are apparent in these standards, including delay in adoption of latest international standards, a lack of specificity in tender documentation, insufficient testing infrastructure, and inadequate implementation. Also, key BOS components like mounting structures and module cleaning systems currently lack standardized guidelines.

In the absence of clear technical standards and a strict certification regime, BOS components often bear the brunt of cost-cutting measures. Studies have shown that poor selection and installation of BOS equipment, account for about 30% of solar project costs. This is evident in the average project tariff, which experienced an 8.8% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) decline from INR 4.62 per kWh to INR 2.66 per kWh between 2016 and 2021. This reduction outpaces the 5.6% annual decrease in EPC costs over the same period.

In terms of setting standards, it is also crucial to understand the importance of Gigawatt-hour and Gigawatt. Regarding solar energy, the quoted gigawatt (gW) signifies the capacity of the system to generate power, yet it omits details about the system’s capability to generate energy throughout an hour, day, or month. This is where the gigawatt-hour (gWh) becomes relevant, as it indicates the amount of energy the system can generate within a specific timeframe. As the output is measured in kwh, it is crucial to standardize the solar panels having kwh as the energy output measurement. After all what we are trying to achieve for our climate goal is to reduce our conventional energy production, emitting higher CO2, by producing more renewable energy and making it available for citizen’s greener tomorrow at an affordable cost.

Intense cost pressure, coupled with an insufficient certification and inspection framework, are fostering the adoption of substandard equipment and inefficient design practices. Unfortunately, these practices are contributing to significant instances of underperformance, safety risks and a loss in power generation. To put this into perspective, a 1 percent reduction in power generation for a 1 MW project, operating at a tariff of INR 2.50 per kWh, could result in a conservative financial loss of INR 0.5 million (equivalent to USD 6,290) over a 25-year period.

In conclusion, as India strives for a greener energy landscape and commits to ambitious renewable energy targets, the role of solar power stands crucial. The existing gaps in technical standards and compliance, particularly concerning Balance of System components, pose challenges to efficiency and reliability of our solar energy infrastructure those are yet to be built. To address this, collaboration between the government and industry to expand and enforce standards is imperative. As the nation balances cost pressures with sustainability, establishing a robust framework for quality standards is pivotal for realizing India’s renewable energy potential and ensuring long-term viability.

The writer is Managing Director, International Copper Association, India

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