What are Solar Panels
Solar Panels are in general Silicon made Rectangular Shaped Glass Covered Products which Produce Electricity when exposed to the Sun.These Panels produce Direct Current (DC) Electricity which has to be converted by a Solar Inverter to Alternating Current (AC) Electricity to be used by Consumers .Note Solar Electricity can also be supplied to the Electricity Grid if allowed by your Utility.However in India,the industry is still immature and interconnections are not given to ordinary consumers in general.So you can use an Energy Storage Device to store Electricity.However Energy Storage Products like Chemical Batteries are quite expensive.Solar Panel produced Electricity usually costs between Rs 15-18 /KwH (much higher than the Rs 3-6/unit paid normally) which makes it uneconomical except in special cases like off grid applications.Replacing expensive Diesel powered Telecom Towers with Solar Panels is also an option.Sharply falling Solar Panel costs should make it competitive with your electricity in 2-3 years.In places like Italy,Solar Electricity is already competitive due to high prices of electricity.
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Why Use Solar Panels?
Solar Energy in India represents one of the Biggest Opportunities in the Energy Sector.The Government has recognized India’s massive potential in Solar Energy and has planned a huge subsidy scheme through the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM).While currently the Support is mainly targeted towards big commercial plants,its only a matter of time before distributed residential systems become widespread.Some states like Gujarat and Rajasthan are also independently supporting solar energy through subsidies and grants.
How much does one Solar Panel Typically Cost ?
Note Solar Panels prices differ widely depending on the technology,power,brand and quality.Thin Film Panels in general cost lower than crystalline silicon panels.Higher Power Panels have a higher price as they generate more electricity.Good Brands also have a higher price tag while cheap imported Chinese panels cost less.Solar Panel prices have decreased by almost 50% in the last 2-3 years and now sell for around Rs 1800-2500 ($400-$550) per panel internationally and should fall to around Rs 1000 in the next 3-4 years . However for small installations ,panels can only be bought from distributors which is more expensive and can cost you almost 50% more.Note Solar Panels form only a part of the total Solar System Cost.The total cost of installation,equipment and wiring can cost upto Rs 300,000($6500)/Kilowatt.
What are the Major Steps in Making a Solar Panel
A Crystalline Silicon Solar Panel usually goes through 5 major steps before being produced.These 5 intermediary stages can all be done by the same company or different companies.First Polysilicon is cast into Ingots ,then Sliced into Wafers.These Very Thin Wafers are then Made into Solar Cells.These Solar Cells are Energy Units which actually convert Solar Energy into Electricity.Solar Cells are then Joined Together to Form a Solar Panel.The Panel is then put into a Frame and enclosed in Glass.Note there are different costs and processes associate with each step.The most technologically challenging step is the making of the cells.However equipment for making these intermediate products is widely and easily available.
Which Companies make Solar Panels in India
There are a number of Companies manufacturing Solar Panels in India and the domestic content requirements of JNNSM will give a further impetus to indigenous solar production in India.While upstream solar products like polysilicon and wafers are made outside of India,downstream solar products like cells and modules are made by some companies in India.Note most of the solar panels made in India is done through mainstream crystalline silicon manufacturing while a very small amount of production by Moser Baer is done through Thin Film amorphous Silicon (a-Si) Technology.The costs of the Indian manufacturers are higher than integrated Chinese companies like Trina Solar,LDK which make raw materials in-house.Due to low costs of transportation it might be cheaper for consumers to import solar panels from outside of India.
What are the Different Types of Solar Panels
Solar Panels come in all sorts of sizes,colors and power.Solar Panels of 20-40 Watts are typically used for applications like a Solar Lamp,Lantern and products using small amounts of power.For Putting Solar Panels on the Roof for Generation of Electricity,sizes vary from 150 Watts to 300 Watts.
Type and Color
There are also 2 different types of Crystalline Silicon Panels – a) Monocrystalline b) Multicrystalline Panels.In general Monocrystalline Panels give higher amounts of power and cost more.Solar Panels generally come in blue color though black color can also be found.
Thin Film Panels
Thin Film Panels are generally used for Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) applications where the Panels are integrated as a part of the Building Structure.This is in not prevalent in India as of now but will become quite pervasive in the future.
List of Major Solar Panel Companies
1) Tata BP Solar – Tata BP Solar is a Joint Venture between Tata Power Company and BP Solar. This Tata Company has one of the biggest and oldest solar panel manufacturing operations in the country. The company’s 84 MW Solar Cell manufacturing facility is capable of processing mono and multi crystalline wafers of 125mm2 and 156mm2. The company’s 125 MW module manufacturing facility is one of the largest in Asia. Their products include customized solar illumination solutions. Tata BP Solar is perhaps the best solar lighting provider in India given the brandname and inhouse manufacturing of solar components.It has a range of Solar Lighting Solutions based on LED and non LED lights. The company has huge plans in wind,solar and geothermal energy
2) Moser Baer – is one of India’s leading technology companies, established in 1983. Moser Baer’s flagship company, Moser Baer India Limited (MBIL) is the world’s second largest manufacturer of optical storage media. Moser Baer Solar Limited is a subsidiary of MBIL. The Group’s photovoltaic manufacturing business was established between 2005 and 2007 with the primary objective of providing solar power as competitive & reliable source of energy. Its products include Multicrystalline cells & modules and Thin Film modules. This is primarily a Solar Panel Production Company which has recently made a big bet to get into the Power Production Space as well. Moser Baer Projects Private in which the Blackstone Group made a $300 million bet has plans of a 20:80 mix of Green and Dirty Power.
3) Solar Semiconductor – is an international organization that offers PV solutions, products and services to worldwide markets including the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. It manufactures its own PV modules and cells. Solar Semiconductor currently has a 195 MW manufacturing capacity and various Systems Integration projects around the world. It offers a comprehensive range of products including complete system kits and PV modules for grid connected as well off-grid applications. A Producer of Solar Power Modules and Cells, it renders services in Solar Installation as well. It also has a small capacity to produce silicon based solar cells or solar panels or both.
4) IndoSolar – is the leading Indian manufacturer of solar photovoltaic cells. Its manufacturing capacity is 360 MWp. The company has capacity to produce both multi and mono crystalline cells.
5) Topsun Solar – is one of the leading solar power solution manufacturers in India & International market. The company has vast experience in Renewable specific to SPV technology & solutions. The Company’s strongest areas are solar Telecom power system, KW to MW SPV Power Plant, Village electrification & Home lighting system. Its manufacturing unit is established with latest technology with their own R&D facilities for future development in solar solutions.
6) Titan Energy – is a major competitor in the distributed, renewable, and alternative energy industries and a leader in development and support for new energy-related technology.
7) PLG Power – is a vertically integrated company operating in the PV sector since 2008. The company is a part of a big, well-established Indian Group, PLG Group, which is almost 100 years old company diversified into numerous businesses in Asia and Middle-East.
8 ) Maharishi Solar – has a vertically Integrated manufacturing facility to produce multi-crystalline silicon ingots, Multi Crystalline wafers, Multi/Mono Solar cells, SPV modules and SPV systems in Andhra Pradesh. Maharishi Solar also designs, engineers and manufactures a wide range of Solar Panels, Solar Water Heaters, Solar Air Conditioning Systems, Swimming Pool Heating etc. for various Residential, Commercial & Industrial projects.
9) Kotak Urja Pvt. Ltd. – is one of the pioneering companies in India dedicated to the promotion of eco-friendly and environmentally safe renewable energy technologies. The company has forayed into solar PV technologies by establishing at that time an advanced PV module manufacturing facility. Over the years, Kotak Urja has developed expertise in Design, Engineering, Manufacturing, Integration & Installation of a broad range of solar thermal & solar photovoltaic systems and aspires to achieve a dominant position in the growing PV market in both India & globally.
10)Photon Energy Systems – established in 1995, is a leading manufacturer of Solar PV Modules, PV Systems and Solar Thermal Systems in India.
Note there are some other solar module producers as well.Note most of these companies import solar cells which are the main technology differentiators as there is very little addition in solar module production part of the supply chain.
How to Buy Low Cost Panels
If you are a large consumer then the best way to buy low cost panels is to import them from China or Taiwan.There are many high quality companies existing in these countries like Suntech,Trina Solar,Yingli Green Energy etc.In fact a number of these companies supply panels to high priced European and American companies.However if you are a small buyer then you have to look for a distributor/wholesaler who can sell you a good quality brand at low costs.Typically you have to pay 30-40% more for panels from these suppliers than directly buying from the companies themselves.
Where to Buy Solar Panels – List of Solar Panel Distributors and Wholesalers
Besides Solar Panel Producers,there are a number of wholesalers and distributors who sell solar panels to small customers.You can find different lists of these distributors from different sources which are given below.Note you have to do your own due diligence in finding distributors who give you good quality solar panels at low cost.
1) ENF Database
Indian Solar Industry -
India has a massive potential in Solar Energy with at least 20 GW of Solar Power to be installed by 2022 according to the JNNSM Plan. This is a conservative target with more Solar Power in India to be installed as state government and falling prices of solar energy lead to much higher numbers. The list of solar companies in India has kept growing with a number of startups and established larger companies entering the solar industry. Foreign solar power companies too have increasingly started to set up base in India.
However, lately solar companies around the world are facing hard times with bankruptcies galore. Not only hundreds of small installers, erstwhile behemoths like Q-Cells have defaulted on debt and declared bankruptcy. The biggest and oldest Indian solar panel companies like Moser Baer and Tata BP Solar are facing survival questions. These companies have seen departure of top executives and are looking for CDR resolutions . Moser Baer which had invested hundreds of millions in investments into crystalline silicon and thin film solar is having difficulty in paying back its debt. Other companies like Indosolar are also looking like a write-off. Indian Solar Panel Companies are asking for protection from cheap imports from China and other countries. Note the prices of solar panels have fallen by 60% in 2011 due to a number of reasons such as cheap raw material polysilicon prices,high competition between major module manufacturers, dropping processing costs. The biggest reason for the solar panel price crash has been the support of the Chinese and other Asian government to their respective domestic solar industries.
It is a fact that many of the major solar module companies would be bankrupt right now without government support. LDK is the prime example of a zombie company flourishing on the back of Chinese government support. Indian solar panel makers have got some protection with the federal subsidy policy JNNSM mandating that cell and modules be made in India. However thin film solar panel technology is exempt which means that they are not fully protected. Besides state government solar polices do not protect them at all. The consequence has been that most of the solar panel companies are running at 0 to 20% utilization as orders dry up.