23 October 2018 | Surbhi Singhvi
A recent report by PI Berlin, supported by MNRE, NISE, SECI and KFW, has highlighted major risks facing Indian PV projects – sub-optimal design, inadequate EPC contracts, poor installation and lack of proper maintenance. The study confirms longstanding concerns about poor quality in the Indian solar sector.
There are multiple reasons that explain quality problems in the solar sector in India. Fierce competition in both utility scale and rooftop solar markets has led developers and EPC players to cut costs and compromise project quality. Many developers have a short-term view as they want to sell projects soon after construction and hence, are not committed to delivering long-term performance. Formulation of robust quality standards and their stringent implementation can solve these problems. But the Indian government has been slow to react. A set of quality standards was introduced for the first time on September 5, 2017 but deadline for certification has been extended multiple times from April 16, 2018 to January 1, 2019.
Currently BIS standards for solar equipment are almost identical to IEC standards, which were formulated keeping in mind temperate climates and hence, are not appropriate for harsh climatic conditions in India. We believe that India needs its independent standards suited for local operating conditions. Moreover, there is a need for devising location-specific standards especially with regards to humidity, sand and UV radiation that vary widely across the country. Lead can be taken from a few coastal states, which specify an additional corrosion test, over and above BIS standards, in their solar tenders.
The onus of developing standards and implementation lies collectively with BIS, MNRE and tendering authorities. Although BIS and NISE have already started devising India specific standards, progress has been extremely slow. Given that the BIS committee on solar meets only once in six months and discussion over changes or introduction of new standards takes multiple rounds of such meetings, formulation of new standards typically takes 2-3 years. Certification and final approval for manufacturers can take another year. Apart from procedural delays, this process suffers from lack of adequate infrastructure and know-how amongst officials. Given the rapid upscaling of the sector, there is a dire need to accelerate the pace at which these standards are formulated and implemented.
The importance of developing quality standards has also become critical in view of new applications and technologies (floating solar, mono-PERC, bifacial modules half cut cells, glass-glass modules) becoming more popular. These applications have their unique requirements – for instance, floating solar plants have higher risk of moisture ingress and corrosion as compared to ground-mounted power plants. It is an opportune time for BIS to devise specific standards for these applications.