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The interSolar, the world’s leading exhibition of the solar industry, started its Indian leg on December 13,2010 at The Leela Kempinski in Mumbai. The opening session of the event had eminent personalities from the industry, education and research institutions, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy(MNRE), regulatory agencies and international financial institutions sharing their views on the Indian Solar Industry. The details of the opening session can be found at here.

The post-lunch session was grouped on 3 topics

1.       Photovoltaic Markets: On-grid PV Market in India and Global PV Markets(Europe/USA/Asia)

2.       Off-grid PV : Off-grid PV Market in India and Off-grid PV applications/Mini grid systems/Micro finance

3.       Solar Thermal : Solar Thermal Market in India and Global Solar Thermal Markets

Since these were parallel events, I could attend only one session – Photovoltaic Markets.

The session on Photovoltaic Markets started with the topic On-grid PV Market in India. The first speaker in this session was Mr. K.S. Popli, Director(Technical), IREDA. He talked about the allotment process for the first set of grid-connected Solar PV and Solar Thermal projects under the 1st phase of the JNNSM. He also provided details about the details about the funding plans by IREDA. He touched upon the various aspects that will be considered while taking a decision to extend loans for solar projects.

Next to speak was Mr. Girish Sant, Coordinator Energy Group, Prayas, India. He highlighted the fact that while some states are doing a very good job of promoting renewable energy generation, many of their Electricity Boards(EBs) are making huge losses, thanks to the subsidy extend to Renewable Energy. Mr. Sant explained how important it is for the solar industry to move to grid parity and away from government subsidies and becoming self sustaining. He also mentioned that the discounts of upto 30% offered by the Project Developers for the grid-connected Solar projects have resulted in significant savings for the taxpayer in the form of reduced subsidies for Renewable energy generation.

Mr. Vishwesh Palekar, Business Head, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd., was the next to speak. He spoke on the topic “On Ground Dynamics in Implementing Solar Projects”. He said that even though M&M was one of the developers that got allotted a Solar PV grid-connected project under the JNNSM scheme, he felt that winning bid prices are low and expressed concerns about the viability of many of the projects that were selected under the JNNSM. He also mentioned that there are lot of challenges that developers will face when they start installing the PV plants. Typical issues could be starting from design, engineering, project management and technology issues.

After this talk by Mr. Palekar, I decided to move to the session on Off-grid where an interesting topic was scheduled. The topic was “Solar Lantern Aims to Wipe Out Kerosene Lamps Globally”. The speaker was Mr. Mandeep Singh, MD, d.light energy, India. The firm sells solar  lanterns in the rural areas with the objective of reducing the consumption of Kerosene. The problem of kerosene usage is three fold :

1.       It is highly polluting and is one of the important Carbon dioxide(Co2) emitters

2.       Usage of Kerosene leads to health problems like respiratory issues and causes eye defects, since young students have to strain their eyes while studying under the dim lights of Kerosene lamps.

3.       Kerosene is highly subsidized and is a big drain on the taxpayer.

Mr. Singh  explained how cost effective the Solar lanterns are in comparison to Kerosene lamps. He also touched upon the challenges involved in making the villagers shift from Kerosene lamps to solar lanterns, some of which include

1.       Lack of awareness

2.       Perception of high cost of Solar lanterns

3.       Language barriers(outside the Hindi-speaking parts of the country, the company has to find local people who can communicate with the villagers of a particular region)

He stressed upon the importance of having quality standards for Solar lanterns, as spurious products will create a bad name for the industry and could derail the main objective of replacing Kerosene with cleaner sources of energy.

The next topic that I attended was “Global PV Markets(Europe/USA/Asia)”. 3 different speakers gave their perspectives on the leading global markets. The first to speak was Mr. Thomas Chrometzka, Head of International Affairs, German Solar Industry Association(BSW), Germany. This was a very important talk as it explained some of the reasons for the success of the German PV industry. Even though Germany is a relatively small country, it has more than 50 % of the total global installed capacity(as of 2010). Some of the highlights of his speech are

i. In Germany, Solar PV is driven by private investments by families. A majority of the installations are in the kilowatt(kW) range and only a small percentage are huge MW size plants.

ii. The Feed-in-Tariffs have been reduced by 3 times already this year. The reason he said was that since the solar PV module prices dropped at a faster pace than expected, the project developers making windfall profits and the Government of Germany wants to pass on the cost reduction benefits to the taxpayer.

iii. The German demand for PV modules would be peaking in 2010 and it may not be able to absorb most of the global production of modules in 2011.

iv. In terms of country analysis, Spain and Czech Republic Solar PV markets are shrinking; France has put a moratorium on new PV installations. However, UK, Slovakia and Greece look promising, while Italy is expected to take the lead in 2011.

The next to speaker was Mr. Parag Bhamre. Associate Consultant, EuPD Research Germany. His topic was “ US PV Market – Leveraging the Market Situation to Enable Successful Business”. Mr. Bhamre said that US PV market is set to take off with the different US states taking lead in announcing policy initiatives to support this sector. The key takeaway from his speech was in the US market, ‘brand image’ of PV modules is very important and hence, it is very critical for the exporters of PV modules to have a very good Strategic Brand Management.

Mr. Minkyu Lim, Executive VP, OCI Chemical Corporation, Korea spoke next. His topic was  “ OCI’s View on the Global Solar Market”. He did a comparative analysis of the countries – China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia. Most of these countries were both big markets and strong manufacturing bases. For example, China and Taiwan together has about 50% of the module manufacturing capacity in the world. Similarly, many of the top global firms in the other parts of the Solar PV value chain – Polysilicon, Ingot/Wafers, Cells – hail from this region. He had a very promising outlook for the sector in this region.

The last speaker of the session was Mr. Frank Haugwitz, Head of Conference Development, Solar Promotion International GmbH, China. He said that the Chinese government had set aggressive targets for Renewable Energy usage, but hasn’t pushed so far for a Feed-in-Tariff mechanism for Solar PV plants. He added that some of the provinces like Jiangsu are providing incentives for manufacturers to set up their bases in the province. One takeaway from his speech was that unlike many other sectors in China, the PV manufacturing companies are mostly privately owned and hence the Chinese government doesn’t feel compelled to implement a FiT to support them. Another important point is that most of the PV products made in China are exported and that trend will continue in the near future.

That concluded the first day of the conference. Personally, I felt that I learned quite a lot from the various sessions with some very good speakers. The event was organized quite well as the registration of the delegates and other operational stuff were done pretty smoothly. The venue is good and so was the food. Even though some of the sessions started late, there was enough time buffer for the following session to start mostly on time. Overall a good day.

I am eagerly looking forward to the second day of the conference which focuses on three areas

1.       Photovoltaic Technologies : Crystalline silicon and Thin film PV

2.       Photovoltaic Policy and Financing

3.       Solar Thermal Technologies : Solar Thermal applications and CST/CSP Technologies.

I will give my thoughts on the second day in my next blog. Till then, good bye.

Update: The details of the second day’s proceedings are available here.