Two weeks ago, I had an opportunity to visit the 750 MW solar PV cell and module plant owned by Premier Energies in Hyderabad. Construction of this plant, India’s second largest, was completed in a record 15 months and full operations commenced in July 2021. It is worth noting that this is the first greenfield PV cell plant to have been completed in India since commencement of operations by Mundra Solar’s’ 1.2 GW plant in 2017.
Premier Energies entered solar manufacturing business in April 1995 with a 3 MW module assembly plant, also located in Hyderabad. The 750 MW cell-module plant, costing INR 4.8 billion (USD 63 million), was financed 75% by debt from IREDA. Equity contribution came in from internal funds and INR 2 billion investment from GEF Capital, a global private equity fund. The company is now expanding capacity with a new 1.25 GW mono-PERC cell-module line with a capital expenditure of INR 7.6 billion (USD 100 million) on the same site. The new line is expected to be operational by December 2022.
Figure: Select images of the manufacturing plant
Source: Premier Energies
The cell-module line, costing about 50% of total capital cost, was imported from China while all utility and ancillary equipment were designed and procured locally. Sustainability was a key consideration with the company designing all process equipment to ensure zero liquid discharge, 100% rainwater harvesting and waste management. As much as 95% of total water used is recycled back in operations.
Unfortunately, the company is still nearly fully dependent on imports of all key components including wafers, backsheets, EVA sheets, glass, aluminium frame, encapsulants and junction boxes because of limited production capacity and high cost of domestic suppliers. Imports are estimated to account for about 40% of the total sale value of a module.
The 750 MW plant can be deemed a great success. It is now operating 24×7 at about 80% capacity utilisation level with 1,200 people employed in full-time roles. The plant has produced about 200 MW and 350 MW of cells and modules so far. The semi-automated cell line, currently producing multi-crystalline cells, is now being upgraded to produce mono-PERC cells with wafer sizes of up to 210 mm. With the government’s strong focus on ‘Make in India’ and various demand creation measures, the cell capacity is completely sold out for the next 12 months. The module line is producing both multi-crystalline and mono-PERC modules using imported cells. The company now produces both mono- and bi-facial modules ranging between 300-550 W in size. It is even considering a backward foray into wafers to win a bigger share of manufacturing business slice.
Some of the cell output is sold to other domestic module manufacturers, while module sales are split about 50:40:10 between sales under Premier Energies brand name, OEM sales to other companies and exports respectively. The company has considerably reduced its EPC business to completely focus on the manufacturing business. It has successfully capitalised on the domestic manufacturing opportunity by making necessary investments at an opportune time ahead of its much larger competitors.