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India's RFID Solar Mission

As part of a national strategy to increase the amount of energy generated via solar power, the Indian government is mandating that all solar modules be tagged and tracked.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Aug 08, 2011—In 2009, the government of India, through its Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), approved the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, a national strategy to increase the amount of energy generated via solar power. The goal is to have solar power become cost-competitive with other types of energy generation by 2022, as part of the country's National Action Plan on Climate Change.

As part of this strategy, the government mandated that each solar—or photovoltaic (PV)—module placed into use must carry an RFID tag, so that it can be easily identified and tracked throughout its useful life. The objective is to link PV module manufacturers to solar power deployments—which, in some cases, will contain many hundreds of modules. "Different manufacturers will sell panels into a big deployment," says Chandrasekar Sanikop, practice head for AvID, an Indian IT services firm specializing in identification systems and radio frequency identification, which is helping PV module manufacturers meet the tagging mandate. A module is a collection of PV (solar) cells built into a single board. A panel is two or more modules wired together and ready to be fitted into a power system.

Finished solar module without panel (left), followed by final finished product with panels fitted to the module (the white boundary is the panel).

"Say you have a big field of panels," Sanikop explains. "One goes down. Who will know where the panel comes from, what its specifications are, etc.?" According to the MNRE mandate, each RFID tag must be encoded with the name of the module manufacturer and the solar cells; the month, year and country of manufacture for the module and the cells; the module's technical characteristics, such as its wattage and expected performance statistics; and a serial number that uniquely identifies the module.

The power companies that purchase the modules—and the MNRE agents who will periodically inspect the solar farms—will be able to quickly access this information by reading a module's RFID tag, to determine whether panels are operating at peak performance, and to locate and replace modules that are outdated or recalled. The tags will also provide an efficient and accurate method for tracking modules that need to be removed from installations for repair.

RFID service providers throughout India are scrambling to capture the business of the country's solar energy companies, which are working to fulfill the production goals. PV manufacturers are looking for complete, end-to-end solutions that will enable them to both comply with the government mandate, and improve their internal operations. Providers are taking different approaches to meeting the mandate, which could require up to ten million tags, says Tirthankar Kshetrimayum, the deputy general manager for Switzer Instrument Ltd., an Indian RFID solutions provider.
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