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India’s recent success in reaching 10 GW of on-grid solar capacity has made the 100 GW by 2022 target a bit closer than before. India has done an incredible job improving, implementing, and acting on- mandating solar installation in Government buildings, net metering, leadership in International Solar Alliance, provisioning viability gap funding, raising tax free solar bonds, offering long tenure loans, aggressive ‘Solar Park’ development and other initiatives, generating momentum which helped India add 5 GW capacity in 2016 itself. 

Even in the rooftop solar segment, India has shown tremendous growth adding more than 513 MW of capacity within the last 12 months, and finally surpassing the 1 GW mark. India has attracted more than US$ 10.48 billion investment in the solar sector, and quickly becoming $100 billion investment magnet by taking progressive stance towards solar growth.

Obviously, the results are pointing towards India becoming a solar leader in near future. However, if we are to compare India with other dominant solar players (countries) in the world, we will see a huge gap. For example, China has installed approximately 34.2 GW of new solar PV in 2016, while India has managed to install 5 GW in the same year. If we are to trace the reason behind this dwarfing difference between China and India, we will encounter issues of scale, powered by meticulously designed strategies. Strategies like Top Runner Program.

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China’s Top Runner Program

In the year 2015, China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) masterminded the “Top Runner Program”. The primary focus behind the program was to increase the use of high-efficiency PV products, thus maximizing (and eventually increasing) energy yield, initiating PV industry transformation.

The Top Runner Program specifies strict parameters and efficiency standards for PV products used to develop solar projects under the Program in order to enhance technology and industry transformation. The standards are as follows:

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To achieve the desired goal (which was to improve PV quality standards within country) the Chinese Government enforced a standard subsidy for projects under this program. And it kept the module purchase prices feasible; keeping bidders from using expensive high quality modules, and focusing towards improving their manufacturing facilities to produce feasible yet high-efficiency modules instead. The overall program was a great strategy that created competitiveness in the industry. Winning the bid was important for solar manufacturers, since it ensured amplified exposure in the global market. Research on this competitive scenario predicts that in 2017-2018, the Top Runner program would increase the technical standards, while decreasing FiTs gradually.

Gleaning from this process and results, other countries in favour of green energy shift adopted similar strategies. Japan’s Top Runner program, Energy Star in the United States, and the European Union’s Eco-design serve as perfect examples and to an extent, replicas of China’s actions towards solar quality enhancement.

What India can learn?

As a nation pursuing energy shift favouring solar, India can learn a great deal from China.

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Quality improvement

The primary purpose of Top Runner program is to create a competitive environment for continuous solar module quality improvement. Since, maintaining and eventually improving the standard of solar module quality is one of the important requirements of any country dreaming of solar self-reliance, India needs to follow in China’s footsteps. India currently has only 5 MNRE accredited module testing facilities. Considering the influx of imported solar products in the country (India imported 161.5 million solar panels in FY 2014–15 and spent $1.3 billion in 2015-16.), supplied by foreign sellers such as- China; it is easy to understand that 5 facilities cannot maintain the required standard against quality.

Therefore, India needs to pose anti-dumping on foreign modules and beef up the domestic manufacturing capacities, besides establishing more R&D and solar module testing labs.

Creating solar champions

Through Top Runner program, China has created a competition within its domestic players, urging manufacturers to improve their production process. This has helped companies to offer better quality products (for countrywide installations) and given exposure to the companies such as JA Solar, Trina Solar, JinkoSolar and Yingli Green as solar champions. Competition has also given rise to new comers (Lerri, Jinergy Technologies, GCL System Integration and Sunport Power) with innovative and quality products. It is fair to state that such competitive environment can bring about the new phase of solar development, along with bringing huge revenues within the country through exposure of particular brands.

Following this method can help India to encourage and develop solar champions who can earn consumer trust in global market, and contribute to India’s solar self-reliance dream with high quality modules and revenue.

Better health of DISCOMS

One of the primary directive of China’s top runner program is to connect the solar energy with the grid. Which means, that China has made large contributions in developing efficient power evacuation and transmission systems. And considering that parts of India still face hours of power cut, not to mention almost 4000 villages still without electrification, India desperately needs to improve the health of its DISCOMS.

Getting the DISCOMS out of current heavy debt and losses can help India to venture ahead and increase its installations quickly.

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Helping domestic manufacturing

China has protected its domestic manufacturer’s interest to centralize the solar energy supply chain industry within its borders. And the Top runner program is just another extension of that initiative. With Government aid (financial, and political) Solar manufacturing industry in China has flourished enough to overtake other major players like US, Japan, Germany etc.

Although, Indian Government has played a major role in solar growth in the country, if we are to stand up to the rising tide of solar competition encouraged by players like China, more efforts are needed.

China’s Top runner’s program can serve as an eye opener for Indian solar sector, highlighting what the country should do to quickly stand up to the competition and claim a piece in the market. We hope that new plans in the making are covering ideas that can help Indian solar sector contend and fare well in the global solar market.




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