Vikram Solar President: Indian rooftop market to exceed 1 GW in 2017

pv magazine: Reports are that around 4 GW of PV will be installed in India in 2016, is that about in line with what you are seeing in the market?

Ivan Saha: Up until December 2016 I think your number is right. But in India, the financial year extends up until March 2017, and I believe another couple of GW will be added to that number.

Well a couple of GW is certainly a significant number in that short timeframe! Is it right that most of the development continues to be in the ground mounted utility scale segment?

The rooftop market in some states is looking promising. What is happening now is that there is a lot of drive and focus by the government on the activating the rooftop market itself. The ground mounted market has taken off in a very big way a year and a half ago. But the rooftop market is just about to pick up.

There are several reasons for that [the rooftop market’s growth]. One is the development of a business model under which the rooftop owners will get paid. Who generates the power, who collects the power and who pays the investor has now been established. Previously, the business model behind this was a little fuzzy.

Another reason was that a lot states did not have net metering, which was a primary requirement of the market. This is even though in some states gross rather than net metering is being proposed.

Finally, open access has been important. This applies to the charges that are incurred to hook up the rooftop PV system to the grid. This also applies to access to the grid from the rooftop. This was also a question mark.

All of these factors have been effectively dealt with. Finance is another part of the equation, but the others have been effectively tackled by the government. The government has made some strategic decisions, net metering, open access, and to a large extent the business model, and with that the sector has been facilitated.

On the financing side, some foreign funds have been attracted. The government has also announced several incentive packages for the rooftop market.

So with all of this the ecosystem has just about become clear and things are looking brighter. Within the next three to six months we expect to see the rooftop market taking off.

Given that, what is your expectation for the Indian rooftop market in 2017?

I think 2017 will be a transition year, so I wouldn’t expect anything more than 1 GW from the rooftop market, or maybe 1.5 GW. This is because it will be the first year that all of these new conditions will be in place. After this point the mass movement will start.

Another sector that is looking most promising the C&I sector in India. Previously, the C&I sector has not been explores to the fullest extent. Now the government is putting in place and enforcing Renewable Power Obligations, and these will be mandatory. The RPOs will start at 3% and the plan is to take that up to over 10% in the next two to three years. This means that large corporations will have to invest in solar power. By large corporations I mean companies that have a large number of industrial assets, which means rooftops that can be used for power generation.

That all means that 2018 will be much brighter and much bigger for the rooftop sector in India.

But 1.5 GW is still a big rooftop market!

It is, but considering the projection for the ground mounted market in India could be anything from 8 to 10 or 12 GW. Right now there is more than 12 to 13 GW of projects that are currently at various stages of construction or development.

India is a big market! The government has set a target of 40 GW on the rooftop by 2022. This is only five years away, so if 2017 is the first year of the rooftop market opening up, then there is a still a lot to do.

What do you make of the commentary that some of the low utility scale project bids that have been successful in India, are in fact too low for the project to be built or at least not at sufficient quality?

Three months ago I was skeptical that these numbers could be met and the projects realized. But if you look at what is happening with module and cell prices the, it changes things. Prices have literally crashed. So some of these tender price/kWh numbers now don’t look so unattainable, they now look possible. So things have changed over the last three months for sure.

What do you think about the quality issues more generally regarding some of the PV projects developed in India recently?

Over the last few years, like all new markets, there have been some successes and some other blips on the radar, which have turned out to be bogeys after all. But for any developing market it is a natural phenomena. People have become more, at least the large players, knowledgable and conscious about the cost of quality. These players are investing in resources and tools to ensure that the proper quality is being installed – both in terms of modules and the design of the park. So I don’t see it as a potential problem right now.

Most of the projects where quality issues have occurred is water under the bridge and the market is going strongly. Investors would not have put in money for this kind of large deployment unless they are convinced on quality. Many of the investors are large international investors, so it is not that they are entirely on new ground in a new market, they are aware of the risks.

Vikram Solar itself is an Indian manufacturer that is quite active overseas, how important is India for Vikram?

About 50% of our capacity is dedicated for the Indian market. Right now we are developing about 400 MW of projects that we won as EPC. So all of our manufacturing capacity is being dedicated to supply this. We are also expanding to close to 1 GW [of module output] by the end of the year. So I think with 50% going to India, that is a good number to aim for.