One would have thought the solar fatigue would have set in. Heck, who would like another solar show in which the usual suspects (in order words, people like me), spoke the same faded and jaded words!
Somehow, the just-concluding Intersolar edition 2011 at Mumbai appears to have done a decent job. The conferences were reasonably well attended, and the parallel exhibition had over 250 exhibitors. I can find one explanation for the lack of exhibitor fatigue – almost half the number of exhibitions were from outside India, and a large percentage of that from Germany, where Intersolar has its headquarters. All said, I must admit that the show exceeded my expectations.
One word of request to Intersolar folks – please keep the exhibition and conference at the same venue (this time the conf was at The Leela Kempinski and the exh at the Bombay Exh Centre, a good 8-10 Kms from the Leela). For guys like me living in prehistoric cities like Chennai, the prospect of rough and tumble travel in a modern metropolis like Mumbai might be more disincentive than the positive prospect of learning more.
The following are my take on the conference and exhibition, though I would like to point out that I was not available fully for either; my digest hence at best, provides only a “partial perspective”.
1. Was Rs 7.49 a shock? I had a feeling that while people spoke as if it was, they had a feeling that it was a coming – Aha! All hail the age of wise Indians who have mastered the secret of expecting the unexpected. Unsurprised.
2. What is the feeling in the developers market? Now that the silly craze of who bids best is over, developers who have won are cautiously peering over spreadsheets and the numbers. 8.5 crores is what is the generally agreed upon cost per MW. What’s a good bid? There were people with IIT degrees who have done their math to show that even the Rs 7.49/kWh bid will return decent numbers – Solairedirect executives must be dying to see those spreadsheets. Less-wet-behind-the-ears pros are acknowledging that Rs 9/kWh and above is a number that civilized society can be comfortable with. On the implementation front, the foremost concern among these coves is of course those dreaded words – financial closure. Things however appear to be more sanguine for them, with the banks seemingly more comfortable with solar financing, and a host of other financial avenues opening up – EXIM, OPIC, other developmental finance banks, cell/module/EPCs with finance tie-ups, and so on. But financial closure is still pretty much a concern. Not so much the concern of actual implementation, which they all presume is a trade the country has enough resources for. Cautious optimism
3. …the EPCs, that comfortably wide enough genre to which every second company claims to belong. What are their thoughts? These folks are bustling with activity – makes me wonder where they get the money to pony up for putting such grand stalls. Anyway, my monetary overawe-ings aside, this category is as busy as busy can get, with some of them innovative enough to provide value added packages like access to finance. They can definitely be more innovative, though. For a service sector, there can be an incredible amount of innovation attempted, but most times what I saw were the generic offerings. In order to fight the competition, a couple of smaller EPCs confided in me that they were going more niche, such as focussing on offering only design services as against the whole lot. Overall, however, I find this segment to be rooted in their infrastructural mindset – our forefathers knew best. Innovative, no, but much-needed, yes – the EPC stalls were the ones most crowded, so much that this self-proclaimed celebrity was swatted away from those stalls without the batting of an eyelid. Looking busy
4. Module makers? – Save a tear or two for these guys, for they may not have enough left in them. Where sir, they ask, is the money for them at such ridiculous tariffs? I point out to the crashing prices of cells, and they say, Bah, that is slower than than the crazy decline in the feed in tariff. I ask them to reflect on providing EPC services and taking in that extra margin, and they look at me as if they have just seen a moron (they justifiably probably did) – why am I suggesting something they had decided a long, long time back? In fact, I was a bit surprised that even foreign module makers such as Bosch and Schuco were bothered about the notorious 7.49 when they had no axe to grid in supplying to the national solar mission (owing to this ghastly local content requirement business). Distressed.
5. What do equipment makers and production line folks (Centrotherm, Bergen et al) feel? For the time being, they seem to be in a mood not dissimilar to what Napoleon’s would have been after the Battle of Waterloo. Only the most brave-of-heart would venture to put up module plants; companies looking to put up wafer and polysilicon are undoubtedly waiting for the government to do something before they sink in their money into these high capex, high risk gamble. Cells? Somehow not happening, is what I hear. Centrotherm did not even bother to have a stall; I however saw many busy folks at the Bergen stall, it all had to do with the pretty ladies manning it perhaps? But then, I am assuming others to be like me! Inert
So, that’s my take; I need to sign off. I will try to provide more insights soon, stay tuned, take care.