‘India can learn from Germany’s mistakes’
TUV Rheinland is the world’s largest company that deals with solar PV module certification. Recently, they opened South Asia’s biggest testing facility in Bangalore. The company’s India Managing Director, Enrico Ruhle, in an interview with Keshav Chaturvedi, talks about the value addition that the new facility will bring to the Indian PV market and how India can learn from the German renewable energy experience
Q:TUV Rheinland has built South Asia’s largest testing facility in India. What was the motivation behind choosing to set up such a facility here?
When I came to India from Japan in 2007, I found that there were many manufacturers of photovoltaics so we took their modules and tested them in Japan and the US and discovered that there was good potential. Hence, in 2008, we developed a business plan, based on which we set up a laboratory that was commissioned in August 2010. As in 2008, there was no discussion on JNNSM or about promoting the domestic market. We concentrated on exports. In case of export of solar panels, the panels need to be certified and as we are in the certification business, we focused on PV panel exports. Then in 2010 end, the National Solar Mission was launched which gave a fillip to the domestic market in a big way so now our portfolio has 60 per cent export component and the rest of the business if generated domestically. We find that every month a couple of new manufacturers are entering the field so the solar PV market is growing rapidly. So to answer your question we entered the Indian market and setup the facility because of the tremendous export as well as domestic potential she has.
Q:When there are testing facilities already available in India, what kind of value addition will your testing facility bring to the table?
Well, most of the Indian laboratories are 20 years old and are no longer considered state-of-the-art. Another factor is that Indian testing facilities can only test up to 80 watt peak while today’s industry norms have risen to 250 watt and above. So this is one of the value additions. Also, whenever some manufacturers come for certification to export their products to Japan, Europe and the US, we test their products according to the standards set by these countries, as we have facilities everywhere in the world and we have been testing products globally. We took part in the procedure to set up ISC (European) and ISO standards. While ISC standards are for products, ISO standards have more to do with processes. Our competitors don’t offer this range of expertise. Our competitors can either offer European certification or US certification as their competence is region-specific. We have an advantage as we are the leaders and control 75-80 per cent share of the certification business. We have nine laboratories spread across the world with two each in Japan, Taiwan and China, and one each in India, Germany and the US.
Q:Do you have plans to open some more laboratories in India?
We will set up one facility in Gurgaon to test textiles and another for the BEE (Bureau of Energy Efficiency) to test air conditioners and washing machines. For BEE, there are certain mandatory tests which we can perform. We are not looking at opening another PV modules testing laboratory as we don’t think it’s economical to open one lab in Bangalore and then another in Delhi; one lab has enough capacity to meet the existing demand. What we are interested in is setting up mobile testing labs, as in Gujarat and Rajasthan, the modules that are being used are coming from China and the companies and the banks that have invested in the modules want to know whether they would produce the power they have promised and also how strong they are. We would like to offer a truck-mounted flasher that can go into the remote areas and check whether the panel gives the promised output or not. Along with this, we would like to ramp up our existing laboratories as well.
Q:Geographically, how would you describe your presence and performance vis-à-vis India?
India is a big market and we have 23 offices across the country. As we began from South India, Bangalore to be precise — in 1995, we have a strong presence in that area. But in the last 3 or 4 years, we have also expanded in the western parts like Maharashtra and Gujarat. Now we are expanding our operations in Delhi. The East is interesting but a difficult market. So while we have a strong presence in the South at present, we expect to step up our operations in the northern, western and eastern parts of India also in the next couple of years.
Q:Would you be diversifying in the energy efficiency market in India?
Yes, surely. What makes us different from our competitors is that they offer consultancy in any one of the fields like testing, certification or training, but TUV Rheinland is diversified so we offer all sorts of options from testing and training to everything. For example, in the area of energy efficiency, we offer testing and certification of products as well as companies — according to international standards. We also offer training courses. Currently we are conducting joint training courses in renewable energy with Jain University in Bangalore. There is a certificate course, a bachelor’s course and a master’s course. We are also planning to roll out similar courses in other universities in India. Moreover, we run an open house programme that offers training in energy efficiency to companies. We are now focusing on vocational training and would be setting up a vocational training centre in wind energy in Tamil Nadu. The wind sector is booming and so is solar PV, but there aren’t enough trained people with the right kind of education and nobody is talking about it. I think the biggest challenge for the domestic renewable energy sector is going to be finding people with the right skills. So training is very important. As we are the largest vocational training providers in Germany, we would like to replicate that success in India and spread our vocational training network by setting up welding institutes. We have already set up one in Bangalore; the others will come up in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. Welding plays an important role in both wind as well as solar PV sector.
Q:What wisdom have you gained that we can benefit from in terms of replicating it?
Wisdom is a strong word but due to long years in this field we have accumulated a lot of knowledge and we are sharing it through organising seminars and building awareness. When we started our laboratory in Bangalore, a lot of PV panels produced by Indians failed. I was taken aback as India was producing them for a long period of time and exporting them too. So why was it that the quality was failing… and then we came to know that though a lot of material was imported, it wasn’t fitted properly, assembled correctly, the cells that were used were of low quality. We went further and did not only test the PV modules but also the components like junctions boxes. When we saw many of the components failed at the testing stage, we thought why not work with the manufacturers and make them aware about new ways of doing things because if a manufacturer comes with a product and it fails, he has to go to the drawing board and work again which means he/she loses eight months and this loss has economic impact too. So we talked about standards and told them that their products failed not due to chemical imbalance but because of wrong usage or selection of components. Once we did that, we organised training for them so that they could come up to the next level. We organised this training not only for the export-oriented markets, but also for the domestic market, as in India most of the standards used in solar PV plants are coming from European Union. We are also working with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) to set Indian standards.
Q:Why is there a need to create India-specific standards?
You can’t export foreign standards and place them in India. For example, there is a lot of difference in Germany. There, the maximum temperature goes up to 32 degrees Celsius whereas in Rajasthan or Gujarat, it may cross 50 degrees Celsius. Also, in Germany, there’s no desert while you have one in India. So one of the main challenges in India, today, is how to clean the solar panels. The trick is to take the European standards and apply Indian flavour to them so that they help Indian manufacturers come up to the next level.
Q:How can renewable energy and energy efficiency be integrated into Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)? Have you done any project that can be replicated across the country?
CSR is something that is hardwired in our brain and also goes through our heart. As we are in the business of certification and a whole lot of other services, we take CSR as a social obligation and also as a business consultancy activity. Now coming back to solar PV, every year we receive hundreds of thousands of modules that we have to test to find out whether they would be able to withstand hailstorms or not. So out of every 14 panels we take two and throw a 40 kg ball on it. So we are left with 12 spare panels that either go to the manufacturer or we scrap it. A couple of years ago we partnered with CISCO and initiated a programme where we rebuilt a school in north Karnataka that was ruined by floods and put up these spare PV panels in order to provide light and run computers. Now with this success behind us, we are planning to use these spare modules to light up those villages in eastern India that have no access to grid power.
Q:It’s been more than two years since JNNSM was launched. As an industry insider, how do you view the progress of the mission?
If I see it from the point of view of a foreigner wearing an Indian hat, then I would say it is a well-prepared document but the execution part needs more rigour. Solar PV plants have done well but as far as rooftop installations are concerned, it hasn’t picked up. While the document specifically says that a certain percentage of government buildings should have rooftop solar panels, this aspect hasn’t witnessed much success. The reason, I think, is that the plan has not been backed by equal efforts in creating trained manpower. In Germany, if you need to install a solar panel on your rooftop, you call an electrician and he does the job but an electrician in India doesn’t even know about it. So I feel that due to lack of awareness and the right skills, the grand plan is suffering. However, if I view the plan from German perspective, I see that yours is the only country in the world where there is a dedicated ministry for renewable energy.
Q:You are a German who has been working in India for a long time. What are the lessons India can learn from Germany’s experience with renewable energy promotion?
I don’t know whether you know what all is going on in Germany right now. I think it’s terrible as Germany was one of the first countries to initiate the renewable energy programme and a lot of solar PV technology emerged from there. Also, we worked out a lot of regulatory and policy initiatives that created a robust sector that employs 300,000 people. However, initially we also provided subsidies and incentives; without them, the sector wouldn’t have grown. Now suddenly all the incentives are being slashed in one go. In my opinion, they should have been removed in stages. I think it’s a sin to see such good companies with so much of intellectual capital going down the drain. So India can learn from our mistakes and use the incentives judiciously as well as remove them when the time comes — in a graded manner to avoid slump. Secondly, it’s a good time to invest in Germany as they would be connecting with a pool of highly trained and technologically advanced system. You have a healthy cash flow, and owing to the JNNSM, there is a need for huge inflow of technology so I think a synergy can emerge in this field too.