Solar power prospects brighten

Research into new materials and structures is under way. Innovative technologies are being tried out. But it has to result in large-scale manufacturing applications. DR. MADHUSUDAN V ATRE, PRESIDENT AND M.D., APPLIED MATERIALS, INDIA

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (NSM) and its guidelines have created significant excitement in the industry with the announcement of new projects, setting up of assembly units and States vying with one another to offer incentives. With critical mass coming in, several large players are looking at backward integration, possibly manufacture of wafers.

Dr. Madhusudan V Atre, President and Managing Director, Applied Materials, India that is among the top suppliers of equipment and technology for solar industry and semiconductor segments, provides insights into the way forward.

Applied Materials and IIT-Bombay have joined to set up National Centre for PV Research and Education and a Clean Lab to work on new materials. Dr. Atre, who has been appointed a member of the advisory committee to drive the sector’s growth, touches upon prospects and challenges in an interview to Business Line. Excerpts from the interview:

What is happening in the solar industry? How do you perceive some of the changes and challenges?

A lot of developments have taken place since the Solar Mission. Various projects have been finalised. On the photo-voltaic side, projects ranging from 1MW to 5MW and on the solar thermo lighting, 50 MW to 70 MW have been finalised.

Many projects approved under the NSM have achieved financial closure and completed land acquisitions.

Apparently things are moving. From the Government’s perspective, it must be reasonably satisfying.

Apart from solar cell manufacturing and utilities, backward integration into wafering and polysilicon is also under way. All this will lead to the creation of a very vibrant solar ecosystem in India.

There have been developments at the Central and State Governments. Gujarat continues to drive a lot of solar-related projects.

What about the semiconductor business?

The Government wants to pitch in $5 billion on setting up infrastructure. The modifications in the Semiconductor policy in 2007 will be reviewed. Many changes are proposed in the policy. It is good the Government is thinking seriously about fabs.

That would be good from a manufacturing perspective but depends upon the local market. Areas of healthcare, automotive, and industries will need them.

These are big guzzlers of semiconductor chips. The changes recommended in the policy can probably make it a little more practical with the perspective of helping set up a fab.

Many companies are getting into an implementation mode. Some of them are raising finances and setting up units, such as Lanco and Moser Baer. What stage are they in capabilities?

Many have attained financial closure and acquired land, approved either by the State or Central Government and started their projects. The manufacturing technology is not a widely prevalent expertise. They have to depend on established technology and Applied Materials is one of the players.

Besides just the cell and module manufacturing which is usually thought of in the solar arena, some want to go a few steps aheadin terms of either manufacturing polysilicon itself or taking polysilicon blocks and making wafers out of them. Till now wafers needed for the crystalline silicon solar cell manufacturing are imported. Some are considering why not bring the silicon and do wafering.

Why should we bring the silicon and do the wafering , why not manufacture the polysilicon here is another line of thinking.

If you look at the chain which essentially comprises silicon, wafers, cells and various utilities, there are players who are now looking across the chain, and not just at a cell or a module. That is important.Through vertical integration, you can bring down costs. If you import a wafer, you are not only paying the guy from whom you are buying the wafer for his manufacturing cost but you are also paying for imports, logistics and transport. Internally, there is an inherent nailing down of costs.

This will be a domain only for serious players with deep financial resources. Backward integration brings about a cost and investment escalation. In the long run, serious and non serious players will get segregated.

Two years ago we were talking of Rs 19 crore for 1MW of installation; now they are saying Rs 15 crore and some of them a little lower than that. What is your assessment of ground reality?

They are talking of Rs 15 crore per MW, the figure has been arrived at after extensive study and with industry inputs. The cost will go down as a function of time, technology escalation, efficiency escalation. That is why now the tariff stands at Rs 12 per kilo-watt. That will decrease year on year as the technology goes up and cost goes down.

Do you see some new technology challenging usage of solar devices? What is your assessment from a research perspective?

Huge amount of research on technologies and devices is under way into new materials and structures.

Some are doing the corrugation of a solar cell on a certain dimension to capture more sunlight, so as to increase the efficiency. Innovative technologies are being tried. But it has to result in large-scale manufacturing applications. R&D to manufacturing process is a significant step.

For instance, flexible solar cell is something that can be used to wrap around objects. This will increase the mobility of solar units. Many new technologies and applications can come up. At the end of the day, it depends on how much of it can be scaled up in terms of size, manufacturing and scaling down of the cost.

We are talking about large installations, what about small units?

Power plant utilities are as important as standalone distributed solar applications. The policy lays a lot of effort on rooftop, lighting applications and other commercial applications.

The higher the utility, the cost and investment is that much more. There is a lot of focus on this by distributors and small scale plants.

The Solar Mission had taken out a directive that out of the 1 Gigawatt generated 100MW has to be diverted towards roof-top applications.

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Posted on June 2, 2011, in NEWS and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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