2019 Can Be Fruitful For Solar, Only Through Policy Alignment

The year 2019 is expected to improve Indian solar scenario, which witnessed a slowdown in second half of 2018. Research data indicates that more than 35 GW of solar projects were tendered in the country between Jan-September 2018. Surprisingly, near about 13 GW of projects were auctioned at the end of the year. This stands as 65% decline in tender activity in Q3 2018, in comparison with Q2 2018.

However, in 2019 developments like, introduction of battery storage policy will have positive effects on renewable energy capacity addition. According to Bridge to India 15 GW renewable energy capacity will be added in 2019 (out of which most will come from solar), which is twice the capacity compared to 2018. However, recent policies have made a dent in the Indian solar growth and stand as challenge in way of solar growth. Let us split the expectations and effect of policy to identify the current scenario.

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Exorcism of Unemployment- Switching to Solar

Current progress in India indicates incredible growth in business and industry development, testified by the country’s acquirement of 77th position On World Bank’s Ease Of Doing Business Report from 126th rank in 2016. However, factoring in 6.1% (NSSO data) current unemployment rate it is important to note that unemployment in the country is surging faster than development and job creation. Improving functionalities and inner mechanisms through policy reformations have done a great job in India, but as a scenario indicates, the country needs a saviour to significantly increase job development.

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Indian Solar Future Relies on Better Quality Development

The latest memorandum issued by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) stresses upon the importance of following BIS certification rather than Bloomberg Tier-I List when lenders are selecting solar projects to invest in. Government has highlighted this mandate as a way to protect domestic solar manufacturers from discrimination, as solar project lenders generally favour investing for projects that have used modules manufactured by Bloomberg Tier-I rated manufacturers. And only handful of Indian solar manufacturers (Vikram Solar, Tata, Adani, Waaree) claimed rank in the list, while majority of the rest are Chinese manufacturers.

Although, Government of India’s intent behind this new mandate seems beneficial for the industry, we need to have a closer inspection for derive an accurate opinion.

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Need of the hour: Solar Adoption, not Project Cancellation

Indian Solar industry has shown incredible growth, with an inspiring trajectory of increasing capacities from 5 GW in 2015 to 10 GW in 2016 to ~24 GW growth in 2018. Although there is growth, India still has to install more than 18 GW of solar capacity each year for the next 4 years to achieve its announced 100 GW target. Considering this scenario, we should expect an aggressive solar adoption rate. However, India’s current solar growth would not be able to realize the 2022 targets.

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Current Scenario

A myriad of projects have been cancelled in the calendar year 2018, which begs the question of whether India would be able to reach current targets. Data shows that between Jan-September 2018, ~35 GW of solar projects were tendered. However, only 13 GW of projects were auctioned. There was a 65% decline in tender activity in Q3 2018, in comparison with Q2 2018.

The results are clearly seen in project installation trajectory. Although, solar installations in Q1 2018 was higher than Q1 2017 and stood at 3.3 GW, however, in Q2 2018 Indian solar installation rate started declining and stood at 1.6 GW in and fell even lower to 1.5 GW in Q3. Although we would want the solar installation rate to rise each quarter of a year, it is normal to see a decline in a few quarters. For example, solar installation rate had fallen in 2017 as well, however, the decline in 2018 is much higher than ever before (30% Y-o-Y), which paints a threatening picture for Indian solar industry.

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Reasons behind the Decline

25% safeguard duty on SEZ based solar panel manufacturers, demands of setting up a manufacturing facility to bid in projects, differential GST rates have increased solar project cost by 12-18% and produced hesitant solar developers bringing forth the decline in projects.

SECI cancelled 2.4 GW out of a 3 GW Interstate Transmission System (ISTS) connected solar auction held in July 2018.

  • The Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Limited (GUVNL) also cancelled the auction for the development of 500 MW of grid-connected solar photovoltaic (PV) projects in March 2018.
  • The Uttar Pradesh New and Renewable Energy Development Agency (UPNEDA) also cancelled 1 GW auction for grid-connected solar projects across the state held in July 2018.

The primary reason behind these cancellations is Government of India’s insistence to bring down solar tariff event further. Also, recent demands like asking developers to set up a manufacturing plant to win solar projects (e.g- SECI’s 10 GW solar project) have negative effects and produced hesitant developers.

India spent $3.8 bn on solar module import in FY 17-18, and in FY 18-19 (Apr-Oct), the country has already spent $1.1 bn, while India’s export of solar for the same years stood at a meagre $141 mn in FY 17-18 and $80 mn in FY 18-19 (Apr-Oct).

Additionally, 25% safeguard duty imposition on imported solar equipment and SEZ based solar manufacturing units have raised the equipment cost, making projects expensive while introducing low quality (imported) module usage issue and little to no demand for domestically manufactured solar equipment.

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Way Forward

Indian solar industry still has incredible opportunity to turn around and lead the global solar revolution, while speeding up solarisation of the country. However, for that to happen, India needs to realize that maintaining investor interest in building solar projects is a must.

And although imported modules offer a cheaper option for countrywide solarisation- It is producing hesitant developers by allowing tariff fall, shrinking India’s opportunity of building solar manufacturing industry, which would have created jobs, improved industrial infrastructure, brought revenue through exports.

Additionally, India’s dependence on solar import is leading to huge forex outflows, introducing quality issues, and making projects unviable.

Therefore, focusing on manufacturing, stabilizing tariff, exempting domestic manufacturers from safeguard duty and differential taxes (GST), would be the right move to increase solar installation rate. Forecasts show that continued import, falling tariff and other policy deviations (safeguard duty, differential GST) will result in lower solar demand in Q1 2019 (approx. 3.5 GW). Therefore, it is the best time for India to make changes and solve core issues to speed up solar project installation.

How Solarising of Cities Can Play a Major Role in Building a Secure and Sustainable Energy Future

Cities act as the very centre of development of a society and spread (social, economic, political, and now technological) growth throughout the world. So, in order to build a sustainable future, the first step should be developing self-sustainable cities. Now, by saying self-sustainable, we indicate the reformation of the most important component that can bring positive impact upon progress of the whole society, which is energy.

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