India: WTO ruling could deliver $100bn hit to solar manufacturers

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The World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling in late February in favor of a U.S. case against India’s domestic content requirement (DCR) under its National Solar Mission (NSM) could hit Indian solar manufacturers’ bottom lines severely, the president of the Solar Energy Society of India (SESI) has remarked.

Speaking to the Times of India, Ajayprakash Shrivastava, SESI’s president, believes that the WTO’s decision in favor of the U.S. claim could hit the industry to the tune of $100 billion. "It’s very bad news for the Indian solar industry," he said. "If the opportunity to manufacture panels and cells for the 100 GW NSM is lost, then we are probably losing business worth $100 billion."

The president’s pessimism ran counter to analysts’ views in February that largely appeared to play down the impact of the WTO’s decision on India’s DCR policy. Speaking to pv magazine, Mercom Capital CEO Raj Prahbu said that the ruling was not a huge blow because there are currently few DCR projects out there.

John Smirnow, trade counsel for the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) , noted that Indian firms had, however, begun attracting manufacturing through joint ventures, echoing a report by GTM Research that found India is becoming one of the world’s most attractive PV manufacturing regions.

For the SESI president, the concern is that many semi-skilled jobs reliant upon a growth in module manufacturing – specifically soldering, which employs a disproportionate amount of women in India – could be injuriously affected.

"We are just letting other countries have it [the business]," Shrivastava said. "These are small- to medium-sized industries that can be easily set up and the manual units employ a large number of women. They are better at soldering so are often preferred."

The Indian government’s "Make in India" program could also be adversely affected by the WTO ruling, SESI’s general secretary, Prafulla Pathak, added.

"The ruling is having a reverse effect on startups in the sector. From being one of the most attractive, it has lost its sheen."

Greenpeace India campaigner Pujarini Sen said that the ruling by the WTO will set back the country’s ability to tackle climate change. "The setting of India’s DCR was based on a worthy core principle: increasing economic opportunities and creating thousands of green jobs while taking critically important steps in the global fight against climate change."

New policy in the offing

Reacting to the WTO’s ruling, the Indian Cabinet’s new and renewable energy minister Piyush Goyal told an audience at the SURYA KRANTI Summit – organized by Barat Solar-Power Development Forum – that the government is working on a policy to "promote large-scale domestic manufacturing of solar equipment for making it more competitive".

Specifically, the minister said that he is seeking methods to support "where we can" the growth of large-scale production of equipment of silicon wafers, and has already submitted a draft proposal to the Cabinet to incentivize manufacturing investment using both fiscal and non-fiscal incentives.

"We stand committed to protecting the interest of domestic manufacturers of solar equipment and nothing can deter India from achieving 100 GW of solar power generation capacity by 2022," said Goyal, who added that India will appeal the WTO’s panel ruling.