According to reports, plummeting prices of polysilicon, a raw material used in solar modules, could make power from solar photovoltaic plants as cheap as Rs 5 a unit or less by 2015 against Rs 12 a unit as estimated today.
Polysilicon, made out of refined sand, was selling at $475 a kg in March 2008. Today, it is selling at $33 a kg, and the industry expects it to fall further to $20 a kg, as global capacity doubles to five lakh tonnes by 2014.
Accordingly, solar module prices have also been falling. What used to be sold at $1.7 a watt a year back (or Rs 8.5 crore a MW) is now at around $1 a watt (Rs 5 crore a MW). The downturn is expected to continue, as leading module manufacturers strive to improve efficiency.
For example, US module maker First Solar says its panel efficiency — a measure of how much of sun’s energy falling on the panel is converted into electrical energy — is expected to rise to 13.5 per cent in 2014 from 11.7 per cent now. When that happens, First Solar will be able to produce panels for as low as 53 cents a watt (Rs 2.6 crore a MW).
India’s Hind High Vacuum Pvt Ltd (HHV) holds out an even bigger promise. The Bangalore-based company makes machinery needed to produce modules. The machines sell at a million dollars a MW — if you want to put up a plant that can produce 50 MW worth of modules a year, you can buy it from HHV for $50 million.
The company’s Chairman, Mr Prasanth Sakhamuri, says it is possible to make modules at 80 cents a watt today, at an assumed efficiency level of 7 per cent.
HHV is working on a schedule to raise efficiency and at the same time bring down material costs, so it should be possible to make modules with HHV equipment at 40 cents a watt, or Rs 2 crore a MW, by 2014. Hyderabad-based Surana Ventures Ltd says it can sell modules for 90 cents even today. The company’s Managing Director, Mr Narender Surana, notes that India’s skewed Customs duty structure favours imports. Imports of raw materials attract a duty of 24 per cent. Add a 5 per cent sales tax, the cost to a buyer contains an embedded tax of 29 per cent. “Even then, we can compete against the Chinese,” Mr Surana says.
Apart from photovoltaic modules, a solar power plant requires ‘balance of systems’ — a range of necessaries such as mounting frames and trackers. These cost about Rs 3 crore for crystalline photovoltaic units and about Rs 5 crore for a thin film.