Solar Panel Maker Doubles Output as Prices Drop: Corporate India

Surana Ventures Ltd. (SURA), an Indian maker of solar panels, is planning to double production after oversupply from Chinese manufacturers pushed prices down by almost 34 percent in the past year.

The company, based in the southern city of Hyderabad, plans to increase output of panels to 30 megawatts this year and invest 250 million rupees ($4.5 million) in a solar cell plant, Managing Director Narender Surana said in an interview. Rising demand for alternative energy driven by coal supply bottlenecks and blackouts may help reverse a slide in revenue, he said.

Surana is counting on one of the fastest-growing solar markets where larger local rivals including Moser Baer India Ltd. (MBI), the country’s biggest maker, and Indosolar Ltd. (ISLR) are struggling to cope with the crash in prices. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government seeks to turn India into a global hub with rules to help almost triple manufacturing capacity to 5 gigawatts by 2020.

“The shortage in coal supply is a great opportunity for us as more and more people are looking at solar energy as a viable alternative,” Surana said. “As India’s energy needs rise, the shift towards solar power shall become more pronounced.”

Sales, which slid 29 percent in the year ended March 31 to 727 million rupees, may jump 38 percent in the current financial year to 1 billion rupees, Surana said.

Stock Slide

Shares of the company have slumped 71 percent since touching 65 rupees on its debut in Mumbai on Jan. 7, 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The stock fell 2.6 percent to 18.5 rupees as of 2:32 p.m. in Mumbai trading today.

India is struggling to add electricity generation capacity to meet peak demand. Power cuts are common across the country, which battles an average 9 percent shortfall that the government says shaves about 1.2 percentage points off annual economic growth. The South Asian country has missed every annual capacity target since 1951, with 76,000 megawatts targeted for the five years ending March 2017.

A shortage of coal and gas used in conventional thermal plants has prompted the government to set a sun-power generation target of 20 gigawatts by 2022, a 20-fold increase. Welspun Energy Ltd., the country’s biggest developer of solar projects, said last month that the nation will surpass the target in the next decade by twofold.

Idle Capacity

The biggest panel suppliers including China’s Suntech Power Holdings Co. (STP) and Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar Inc. (FSLR) say India is about to become one of the fastest-growing solar markets, countering waning demand in Europe where governments are cutting back clean-energy subsidies.

Surana may be putting up the investment, anticipating such a surge in demand, even though solar-panel makers in India have almost 80 percent of their capacity lying idle now, said Bharat Bhushan, a New Delhi-based analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

India is soon set to release a 3 gigawatt capacity plan for the next four years and it will have a domestic content requirement, Bhushan said.

“The home market is the big hope for solar manufacturers in India,” Bhushan said. “The government has already been promoting the use of locally made cells and modules,” which will be extended in the next phase, he said.

First Solar, the only profitable panel maker among the 10 biggest in the world, plans to develop solar farms in India, with demand coming from industrial and commercial users without any government subsidies involved, Sujoy Ghosh, the India head of the world’s biggest thin-film panel maker, said last week.

Debt Revamp

A lot of investment planned for thermal projects will go to renewables, Welspun Energy’s Managing Director Vineet Mittal said last month. Indian power utilities have stalled plans to invest about $34 billion to build 42 gigawatts of capacity as coal output fails to meet demand.

The oversupply of solar panels has claimed at least 14 U.S., German and French makers, while prices have plunged 34 percent in the past year amid dwindling demand in Europe, the largest market for the equipment. Moser Baer said in May that it was revamping 35 billion rupees of secured debt and selling bonds to pay off dollar-convertible notes.

Surana faces the threat of competition from Chinese makers that are bigger in size and capacity, said Vishal Kothari, a power analyst at JHP Securities Pvt. in Mumbai, adding it will be difficult for a small company to succeed when bigger ones have failed.

Dim Outlook

“I don’t see any major growth in this sector as the cost of generation is too high and competition is too much,” said Kothari, who doesn’t have a rating for the stock. “Surana’s performance has been volatile historically.”

Surana Ventures was spun off from the solar business of Surana Telecom & Power Ltd. (SRTL) in November 2009 and started trading about a year later. Bhagyanagar India Ltd. (BHIL), the parent company, holds about 24 percent of the solar-panel maker, while the phone company owns about 18 percent.

Access to the group’s cash will allow Surana Ventures to buy raw materials from distressed European companies at half the cost, said Surana. Cash reserves and equivalent at Bhagyanagar rose sevenfold to 95 million rupees as of March 31 from 12 months earlier, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Surana Ventures had 252 million rupees of debt in the period.

“This gives us an edge when we bid for contracts,” Surana said. “It also helps in pricing our products competitively.”

The company is also exploring opportunities after the country’s phone regulator this year recommended that carriers shift to renewable energy from diesel to power their communication towers, he said.

“With the cost of equipment coming down drastically, the cost of generating solar power has also fallen,” he said. “Solar is more attractive than other forms of alternative energy and we expect state governments to encourage setting up of projects as well. That will provide a big boost to us.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Sharang Limaye in Hyderabad at slimaye@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Arijit Ghosh at aghosh@bloomberg.net

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