China supplied 84% of India’s imported solar cells and modules in FY 2016

The dominant role that Chinese solar manufacturers currently play in the soaring Indian PV market was laid bare this week when new and renewable energy minister Piyush Goyal confirmed that 84% of all solar cells and modules imported into the country in the past fiscal year (FY) came from China.

Of the $2.34 billion worth of solar equipment brought into India over FY 2015-16, a massive $1.96 billion worth of solar cells and modules were produced in China, Goyal said in a written reply to Rajya Sabha, which is India’s Council of States in the upper house of Parliament.

Equally startling was the increase in investment compared to FY 2014-15, when solar imports amounted to $820.95 million. That year, Chinese imports were $603.34 million of that figure, which highlights that India’s reliance on cheap Chinese solar goods has increased in the past 12 months.

Beyond China, manufacturers from the U.S. and Europe are also serving Indian demand, and augmenting domestic supply.

Goyal was moved to reassure the industry that the government is providing support for domestic manufacturers through a variety of provisions, including reserving capacity for domestic modules and cells that are guaranteed an off-taker on the market.

India is poised to become the world’s third-largest solar market in the world next year, with analysts in agreement that the country will likely support 10 GW of growth over the coming few years. To achieve its longer-term goal of 100 GW of solar PV capacity by 2022, India will have to bolster its domestic manufacturing capacity, which currently stands at around 6.5 GW for modules and 1.6 GW for cells according to recent data from Mercom Capital.

Average capacity utilization across India is 82%, with Waaree, Vikram Solar and Emmvee each with an operating capacity of around 500 MW. Tata Power Solar and Alpex Exports have 300 MW and 250 MW capacity respectively.

Beyond the top-level manufacturers, some 600 MW of India’s solar manufacturing capacity is ringfenced by a number of small players with less than 25 MW capacity each. These firms often own old and inefficient lines that are unlikely to be able to offer the kind of quality and affordability in solar components that India is increasingly demanding.

Chinese solar modules, on the other hand, are being sold in India for around $0.39/watt, which is among the cheapest average selling price (ASP) anywhere in the world, according to Mercom Capital.