State-run BHEL is looking at expanding its limited footprint in the renewable energy sector by getting into the manufacture of solar wafers. The public sector power equipment major’s initiative marks a welcome start to the country as a whole, since there is no domestic production yet of this key component of solar photovoltaic cells.
“We have taken board approval to manufacture solar wafers and are looking at viability gap funding support from the clean energy fund,” BHEL chairman and managing director B Prasada Rao told FE. A plant in Maharashtra’s Sakoli will start manufacturing the solar wafers, apart from photovoltaic cells, modules and solar panels. The company is investing R3,000 crore in the venture.
BHEL will use indigenous technology to make the wafers cut from crystalline silicon ingots. This will help reduce the cost of photovoltaic cells, giving a boost to the clean energy segment. The cost of putting up solar power projects is around R8-10 crore per megawatt. Tariff for electricity produced from this route could be R7-8 per unit.
“With the cost of putting up solar power projects coming down rapidly, it makes sense for us to be a large player in this segment. With the new facility, the company could command a substantial segment of the growing domestic market for solar energy,” said a BHEL board member.
BHEL is already present in the solar power segment with manufacturing facilities for lanterns, photovoltaic cells and modules and water heating systems, mostly made at its plant near Bangalore.
“The new product is the result of work put in by the company’s research and development. BHEL invested R1,258 crore last year, which was 2.5% of sales,” Rao said.
BHEL is also looking at developing a hybrid system that integrates wind, solar and biomass-based power generation. It is also producing wind power generators and mini- and micro-hydro-power sets.
The equipment maker is grappling with dwindling orders in the thermal equipment segment as major companies are either abandoning their projects or facing delays due to lack of statutory clearances. The company is expected to close the year 2013-14 with equipment orders for just 3,000 MW of capacity. The company has embarked on major diversification and R&D exercise to de-risk its main thermal power business by expanding its renewable energy play and entering into new ares in defence production and transportation.
As reported by FE earlier, BHEL has launched a new series of thermal power equipment –