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Potential Thin-film production Giant from India

Ratul Puri, the 35-year-old executive director of Moser Baer India- a $400 million high-tech company that straddles business as diverse as the optical media, home entertainment, consumer electronics and solar energy sectors – says that “India has a massive opportunity in solar. Five years down the road it can be amongst the world’s largest markets.”

In a recent interview, Puri told GlobalPost that the SAARC region provides huge opportunity for large sized solar projects.

He added that his CD and DVD business’s enormous volumes give him more experience in coating thin-film silicon, the essential technology that Moser Baer’s solar cells will employ — more than any other company in the world.

Thin-film technology is not deployed as much globally as silicon-based modules or crystalline silicon. However, as R. Arya, CEO, Solar Business, Moser Baer India, says: “The thin film technology is best suited in ramping up grid-connected solar farms in high ambient temperature regions like India.  Crystalline silicon tends to degrade with higher temperature.” Thin-film PV modules, which use a variety of light absorbing materials like cadmium telluride, are a cost-effective way of converting solar energy into power than the traditional method using crystalline or multi-crystalline silicon wafers. Even though the efficiency of thin-film solar modules is 50-70% lower than silicon wafers, meaning it takes 50-70% more surface area to produce the same power, the cost reduction can be as high as 50% through thin-film.

Global Trends in Thin-Films

According to research by BCC Research Analysis, the global PV market stood at $12.9 billion in 2007 and is projected to grow to $32.2 billion by 2012. Silicon technology, which accounted for about 89% of the market in 2007, will represent 79% percent of the market by then. The research firm said thin films, which accounted for 10% of the PV market in 2007, will grow at a 45% rate through 2013, driven by improvements in efficiencies and the use of these materials on flexible substrates. Thin films will account for almost 19% percent of the global PV market by 2012.


Moser Baer’Investments

Moser Baer plans investments of nearly $3.2 billion in research, development and manufacturing of solar products. “We plan 600 megawatts of capacity by 2010,” Puri said, “which will get us to the magic $1 a watt that it will take to compete with conventional power.”

And that was at a time when nobody believed blank CDs could be made cheaply enough to replace floppies. “Ten years ago, it would have been impossible to believe that you could have a DVD that you could sell for 10 cents a disk and make money, but today it’s real. So similar to that in the solar space. There isn’t one big factor [to cutting costs], it’s a lot of little factors,” Puri said.

That can be seen in how, in one of the dustiest places on the planet, the company built a massive “clean room” for disk manufacture. It required an air conditioning unit that takes up the entire second floor of the factory, and installed their own diesel-fueled power generation facility, since even a brief electricity outage would spoil the melted silicon.

If the company gets there by 2010, that could help India leapfrog to clean energy the way it bypassed terrestrial telephone networks, going straight to cellular – which could also be good news for the rest of the world.

MBPV’s solar PV efforts

However, MBPV has multiple eggs in its basket, for it plans to raise Rs 300-400 crore of debt in the next 2 to 3 months to fund expansion, primarily to increase the crystalline silicon capacity of its Solar PV manufacturing business by 100 Mw from the current 140 Mw. The company expects PV to contribute almost half to Moser Baer’s business over the next three-four years. Yogesh Mathur, Group Chief Financial Officer, told Business Standard: “Our immediate plan is to beef up our crystalline silicon capacity. In PV we have been able to achieve strong shipment and corresponding revenue. We are now actively implementing our crystalline silicon facility’s expansion”.

The proposed capacity expansion will take place at Moser Baer’s manufacturing facilities at Greater Noida and Chennai. Moser Baer Photo Voltaic (MBPVL), another arm of the company, is on track to increase the crystalline silicon capacity to 80 MW by the end of the current fiscal.

He also said that Phase two of expansion relates to an increase in the combination of both thin film and crystalline silicon facilities. Moser Baer’s current production capacity is of 80 Mw crystalline cells, 80 Mw crystalline modules, and 40 MW thin films, with expansion plans having been put in place. The contribution of PV currently stands at 25 per cent. Moser Baer PV (MBPV) clocked shipment revenue of more than 25 Mw (above Rs 200 crore) for the fourth quarter ended March 31.

Moser Baer is investing about $1.5 billion in increasing its thin-film photovoltaic capacity to 600 mega watt (MW) over the next 2 years from the existing project capacity of 40 MW. The conglomerate has, through one of its subsidiaries, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a leading US-based equipment supplier to secure supply of critical equipment.

In fact, MBPVL had recently raised $100 million from a clutch of private equity investors, which had also set a minimum threshold valuation of the PV business at $1 billion. The $1.5-billion thin film expansion plan would be financed through a mix of debt and equity.

The capacity expansion would make Moser Baer one of the leaders in the thin-film PV business globally. The global thin-film PV market is expected to grow to 2 giga watt (GW) by 2010 or about $5 billion, with MBPL targeting a 30% share of it. Global thin film capacity currently stands at around 250 MW.

Moser Baer’s activities on the field

Thin-film projects

Business Standard reports that Moser Baer commissioned its largest thin film solar farm with an installed capacity of 1 Mw at Chandrapur in Maharashtra. This project was awarded by Mahagenco, the state government’s power generation company. Moser Baer signed an agreement with Germany’s SunEnergy Europe for this project. The farm has been uses amorphous silicon thin film technology and is connected to the 33 KVA local grid, for which the govt. has announced high incentives (A GBI is payable to the developer. Its value is the difference between the tariff determined by the CERC (Rs. 17.9 for PV/15.4 for solar thermal) and the base rate, which is equal to Rs 5.5 per kWh for the financial year of 2010 to 2011, and escalates @ 3% every year).

However, adopting the Yin/Yang ideology, Moser Baer is in addition investing in power plants using PV technologies too:

PV projects

The company commissioned its largest thin film solar farm with an installed capacity of 1-Mw at Chandrapur in Maharashtra. This project was awarded by Mahagenco, the state government’s power generation company. Moser Baer signed a consortium agreement with Germany-based SunEnergy Europe for this project. The farm has been set up using amorphous silicon thin film technology and is connected to the 33 KVA local grid.

It plans to commission its second solar farm in the country in the next quarter. The 5-Mw farm will be set up in Tamil Nadu, with an investment of $20 million (Rs 90 crore) and a farm of similar capacity will be set up in Rajasthan after that, said Mathur.

In another front, Moser Baer PV has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Government of Rajasthan for setting up of a large solar power project in the state with an estimated generation capacity of around 5 Megawatt. The project, entailing an investment of around US $25 million (Rs 100 crore) at US $4.5 million per MW, will be the largest grid-connected solar farm in India. Moser Baer’s focus will be on strategic tie ups with some of the leading global Solar PV Companies and clean energy funds for setting up large sized solar farms across the SAARC region. A farm of similar capacity will be set up in Rajasthan after that, said Mathur.

MBPV plans to implement a capacity of 500 MW by financial year 2010 through a mix of technologies in the crystalline silicon, concentrator and thin film domain. The company further informed that its photovoltalc equipment manufacturing capacities for crystalline silicon, concentrator and thin film technologies are coming up in an SEZ in Greater Noida.