Indian solar company gradually reducing China dependence

Prasanth Aby Thomas, DIGITIMES, Bangalore 0

Damian Miller, co-founder & CEO, Orb Energy. Credit: Orb Energy.

Indian solar energy company Orb Energy has reduced its reliance on Chinese components by over 20% in recent years, in line with the general trend of diversifying supply chains.

"At present, 73% of our components come from China, down from 94% before," said Damian Miller, co-founder & CEO of Orb Energy. "We work with companies like Aiko Solar and Tongwei Solar. In the past, we have also worked with Taiwanese companies like URE and Gintech. Their prices are more attractive due to their scale, but we are actively looking at how to diversify the supply of other components besides solar cells. We try to use as many suppliers in India as possible."

The company has shifted its sourcing strategy to purchase glass, EVA back sheets, and aluminum frames locally in India, according to Miller. Over the past year, these changes have facilitated a reduction in dependency on Chinese components, with the company planning to continue this trend.

However, it may take some time before the Indian solar cell market reaches a maturity level sufficient for solar module manufacturers to become self-sufficient, thereby reducing the need to import additional cells. Many manufacturers aim to be vertically integrated, utilizing all produced cells internally.

The Indian government reported in February that the country's installed capacity for solar PV module manufacturing is approximately 50 GW. However, the installed capacity for manufacturing solar cells stands at about 6 GW, indicating that India still has significant ground to cover in establishing a robust solar cell production capability.

Focus on R&D

The company has conducted its own R&D and explored the possibility of backward integration into cell production. Initially, it focused on Mono PERC technology, but during that period, the market made a significant leap to TOPCon technology.

"There were questions about Mono PERC, and now there are questions around TOPCon's degradation in field environments," Miller. "It has to be seen to what extent TOPCon, although higher in efficiency, actually performs as expected. We've analyzed that if we were to produce our own cells, we should shift straight to TOPCon, but we need to observe how it performs in the field for a while longer."

He added that currently, Orb is not looking at HJT, which is a focus area for some of the large companies in this segment.

"The question is about pricing," Miller said. "The Indian market is one of the most price-sensitive and competitive in the world. You need to be extremely competitive on your cost of goods and delivery to the customer to secure a viable margin. It'll be interesting to see where the market for TOPCon develops compared to HJT."

Beyond solar energy

Besides solar panels, the company is also interested in storage, as it completes the solar energy solution and is crucial for anyone in the solar industry. Miller said that storage helps reduce the intermittency of solar power.

Currently, the grid serves as a battery through net metering—users feed into the grid when they have excess power and draw from it when they need more, provided the grid is functional.

"However, where the grid is not reliable, storage becomes critical," Miller said. "The market for grid-tied storage might shrink as the grid improves, but a promising area is for entities using significant amounts of diesel for generators. Lithium battery costs need to drop significantly, potentially by 50%, but following the cost curve of solar, this reduction is not inconceivable in the next few years. This could lead the commercial and industrial sectors to reduce diesel usage by integrating solar with batteries."

The government is currently exploring large-scale, grid-connected solar installations with storage, a development that has also captured the interest of industry players. The key focus is on the potential benefits for customers, particularly the ability to store solar-generated power for nighttime use when solar is not available.

At present, customers benefit from solar energy solely during daylight hours and can only offset their nighttime power consumption if they possess their own battery storage systems.

"The challenge lies in making the cost of battery storage competitive with grid power," Miller said. "Then, you'll see widespread adoption across residential, commercial, and industrial sectors of off-site, ground-mounted solar systems adding batteries to utilize solar power at night. This is the area we are very focused on for the future."