Low tariff shadow looms over solar power sector

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December 3, 2017 5:39 AM

Rock bottom solar power tariffs might spell good news for consumers and the environment alike, but for developers, it is now a matter of survival.

solar power, solar sector,  renewable energy, solar energy, conservation of energyGyanesh Chaudhary, MD and CEO of Vikram Solar, India’s largest supplier of Solar PV panels, says the problem has always existed,but is likely to become a serious issue when many more projects come on-stream over the next couple of years.

Rock bottom solar power tariffs might spell good news for consumers and the environment alike, but for developers, it is now a matter of survival. Ironically, the problem is of their own making to a large extent. With aggressive bidding, solar power tariffs have been pulled down to Rs 2.42-2.65 per unit in the latest rounds, and this has made it difficult for companies to stay afloat. As a result, they have been sourcing inferior quality equipment like rooftop solar panels, inverters and mounting structures. As Niranjan Patil, head of Bangalore-based renewable energy consulting and audit firm Lavancha, points out, this has resulted in complaints of cracked solar panels and corrosion of components in less than two three years of installation across the country. And while suppliers offer guarantees and warranties for replacement, enforcing these becomes a challenge when products are sourced from tier-2 and tier-3 producers in China. Sources indicate that smaller suppliers vanishing in a few years is also not uncommon.

Gyanesh Chaudhary, MD and CEO of Vikram Solar, India’s largest supplier of Solar PV panels, says the problem has always existed,but is likely to become a serious issue when many more projects come on-stream over the next couple of years. Industry leaders like Sumant Sinha, founder & CEO of ReNew Power, had earlier warned that those bidding aggressively would eventually run into trouble. He had portended that given the business economics, many of the projects would become unprofitable. Industry experts also feel that the auction system might have helped bring town tariffs, but the aggressive bidding is not good for the health of the developers and the sector. Incidentally, industry majors like Re-New Power and Tata Power have not been very successful in recent tenders floated by state power bodies due to their higher bids. “Developers always want to make profits and may even flip projects in a few years of operations. Here the role of a financier is critical.They need to set norms for minimum requirement and white-listing of suppliers. Banks should follow strict due diligence and visit plants for firsthand white-listing of suppliers and funding of projects,” says Chaudhary.

Some of the new-age financiers with huge exposure are doing it, but others also need to follow the example, he adds. He suggests that India needs to learn from Germany, where 30-35% of electricity comes from renewables and the sector operates on an auto-correct mode. Even as steps to correct the situation can help curtail the problem in future, some solar developers are already looking to sell their non-performing assets. “Developers are now looking to sell-off projects in less than two-and-half years of operation, ”an industry official told FE on condition of anonymity. FE is in possession of a letter where one developer is looking to sell 1,610 modules, as generation at the inverter level dropped by 20-25% in two years.

The company is trying to sell the modules through a tender.That many of such projects will turn into non-performing assets for lender sand bad eggs for investors is quite plausible today.“There is every possibility the panels will fail to meet the committed targets of generation and could be nonviable to service debt and create returns on investments, turning into a non-performing asset for developers, as well as investors,” says Patil of Lavancha.Several instances of panels cracking and inverter scatching fire have been reported by developers. Even more have seen modules showing degradation of 20-25% in just about two years. Many of these instances have been reported from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and  Telangana and even from Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.“It is an indicator of how compromise in module quality is going to result in a problem.

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