Against the backdrop of COP21 UN climate negotiations, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President François Hollande launched the International Solar Alliance in December last year.

The alliance involves over 120 countries supporting the “declaration on the occasion to launch the international solar alliance of countries dedicated to the promotion of solar energy”. Modi was encouraged by the industry-wide support given to solar energy.

Recently, Lightsource Renewable Energy, a British solar company, announced a £2 billion solar investment in India to build about 3 GW of solar power infrastructure through its partnership with Srei Infrastructure Finance Ltd. Another solar company from the UK, British Solar Renewables, is already expanding its business in India and is aiming at the installation of 100 GW of solar power in the five to seven years.

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Source: Reuters

While the alliance will provide a major boost to the international opportunities surrounding solar, only a few British solar companies are in a position to be able to take advantage of the fact. The UK Government has announced a spending of only £7 million to support the British solar industry for the next three years, disregarding the international momentum building around the renewable source of energy. Industry experts in the UK expect critical decisions on the solar Feed-in-Tariff to come within days of the climate summit in Paris.

According to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Mood, the COP 21 climate change agreement was meant to send a strong message to investors to pour in more money into solar and other renewable forms of energy. Moreover, he urged the countries present at the summit to cooperate and compromise to be able to reach a consensus.

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The Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) recently floated a tender for 500 MW of solar power in Maharashtra. However, the responses were lukewarm at best. There was a significant reduction in the number of technical bid submissions as compared to recent tenders in the country, as per Bridge to India’s figures.

For a total capacity of around 1.8 GW in the tender, only 14 developers submitted bids. As against this, 30 players had submitted bids for 5.5 GW of capacity in a recently held tender by National Thermal Power Corporation in Andhra Pradesh. According to Bridge to India, the bids in this tender are likely to be higher than those in recent auctions due to the projects being developed outside solar parks, which makes land acquisition something of a challenge. The challenge is amplified in the case of larger projects, hampering benefits arising out of economies of scale.

The consultancy also says the industry might also view SECI as a higher risk off-taker than NTPC. Moreover, increasing module prices and a depreciating rupee may cause an upward movement in tariff bids.

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Source: The Hindu

The Maharashtra project will work on a fixed tariff of INR 4.43/kWh, significantly lower than the previous rate of INR 5.43/kWh. A Viability Gap Funding (VGF) of up to INR 10 million per MW is also involved. Further, under the domestic content requirement, 50 MW of projects will be reserved for modules with VGF of up to INR 13.1 million per MW.

SECI’s upcoming tenders in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh are also expected to see subdued competition.

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NTPC, the Indian state-owned utility is set to collaborate with German institutions Fraunhofer Institute of Solar Energy (ISE) and DLR Cologne on various solar research programmes, via its R&D arm called NTPC Energy Technology Research Alliance (NETRA). It plans to set up research and evaluation centres for CPV, CSP and solar PV to conduct knowledge-sharing and capacity building programmes alongside the German institutions.

Germany and India have a history of solar and energy collaboration. In October last year, Germany announced its plans to offer concessional loans worth EUR 1 billion to Indian solar projects over the next five years, on the back of the Indo-German Solar Energy Partnership programme. Over the past few months, NTPC has been involved in a number of solar park tenders in the country, with Fortum Finnsurya Energy, a Finland-based developer, winning 70 MW of capacity in Rajasthan at a throwaway price of INR 4.34 per kWh in January a few months back.

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Source: The Hindu

In more positive news for the sector, Coal India Limited is underway on its mission to develop 1 GW of solar projects across the India to reduce the carbon footprint. It is now planning to tender the remaining 800 MW of power, with 200 MW already in the pipeline for Madhya Pradesh. The entire 1 GW capacity is to be owned by Coal India.

An increasing number of companies in India are seeing a shift to solar power of late. ArcelorMittal, the steel giant, recently started planning on a 500-600 MW project in Karnataka and RattanIndia Power has a 200 MW solar PV project up its sleeve, to be developed on a 324 hectare plot in Punjab.

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While solar power projects are gaining traction in the country, a great many of them have been reported to compromise on the quality of modules used and execution, according to a new finding by Intersolar India. The extremely low bids in the recent state solar auctions are feared to aggravate the issue owing to the focus on efficiency rather than quality when it comes to completion of such projects.

There seems to be a blatant disregard for the quality of execution in projects, potentially leading the grid to become unstable. A lot of developers are also failing to conduct proper module tests and are using questionable practices to enter the market. Such issues will likely drive international investors away, who will be needed to achieve the 100 GW by 2022 target for solar. But, they may also be an opportunity in disguise for EPC retrofitting and improvements in quality of solar plants a few years after they go online.

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Source: The Hindu Businessline

The problem at hand can also potentially result in bankruptcy for developers who would be forced to sell projects at dirt cheap prices. Most solar auctions in the recent times have seen 30-50 large bidders, with inexperienced developers winning them and then failing to deliver on the projects.

Bidders often promise to deliver power at low tariffs, disregarding the concept of sustainability, and riddling the whole process with a bunch of compromises. This severely undermines the credibility of the industry as a whole and might require intervention from the government who could blacklist defaulters and make it difficult for speculators to enter this space.

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An interesting new model is coming up in the solar power space, where power companies are renting rooftops out from owners and offering cheap solar power in return. Commercial and industrial establishments, malls and large gated communities are the prospective targets for these companies who are offering to do solar rooftop installations for free and selling power at lower rates than the standard ones.

According to people in the industry, around 240 sq. mt. Is adequate space to set up a solar rooftop plant that can be used to generate power and earn reasonable profits. A bunch of companies have already forayed into the space and are on the lookout for rooftop spaces in commercial buildings, malls and industrial complexes.

About 8 sq. mt. of space is required to install panels for generating 1 kw of power and at least 30 kw of capacity makes any installation viable. The power thus generated helps the owners reduce their costs while making use of the rooftop which would otherwise remain idle. However, lease agreements didn’t exist and there was no way to make a binding agreement between the solar company and the rooftop owner either. This was one of the primary factors posing an obstacle in the takeoff of large scale rooftop solar installations.

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Source: The Hindu Businessline

With the cost of solar PV cells declining rapidly, the cost of solar power has also decreased. Moreover, solar power doesn’t suffer from power cut issues or expensive power, as rooftop owners enter into long-term contracts for buying power at a low cost. While this model may have limitations for gated communities, a standard and legally binding contract for this model should eventually see rooftop installations even on residential buildings.

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The Indian government seems to be doing its bit to move towards renewable energy, if only at a slow pace. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) recently wrote to the state governments, asking them to set up ‘solar zones’ to boost private sector investments into large-scale solar projects across the country. Also expected this year are four large solar projects, which may well become the largest in the world on completion.

According to MNRE’s joint secretary Tarun Kapoor, state governments have begun work on the solar zones, which are touted to be on a bigger scale than the mega solar parks conceived by the Ministry. However, the government is not purchasing land for solar zones but will acquire transmission facilities and provide critical infrastructure such as roads and water. The land area will be large for such projects, the acquisition of which will rest with developers with the MNRE providing information on land availability.

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Source: The Hindu

However, land prices for solar projects remain something of a worry with Kapoor admitting that they haven’t been as low as was expected in the case of the country’s first attempt with the Charanka solar park in Gujarat.

The Energy Minister for Madhya Pradesh, Ranjendra Shukla, also announced the tender schedule for a 750 MW solar park that is to be located in Rewa and will house three 250 MW plants. The tenders were expected to fetch final bids in February with the winners being announced in March. Full commissioning would being next year. The state already has solar capacity of 535 MW with its several projects and with Rewa it will likely house the biggest solar park in the world.

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In January this year, the Indian government allowed for significant amendments to be made to the country’s ‘Tariff Policy’, which included increasing Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO) for solar power to 8% by March 2022. Under the RPO scheme, Indian power distribution companies (discoms) are mandated to make a purchase of a stipulated amount of renewable energy. Previously, the RPO stood at a mere 3%. Tarun Kapoor, the Joint Secretary of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) announced last November that the raising of the RPO limit was becoming a necessity and called it “the single most important regulatory and policy mechanism of government of India to drive solar”. This indeed looks like one of the more important developments in the renewable energy sector in recent times.

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Source: The Hindu Businessline

Also part of the policy revision is a compulsory procurement and purchase of renewable capacity by coal-fired or lignite-based thermal plants, a move that can be seen as attempt to bring an increasing number of industries in harmony with renewable energy. To support solar grid expansion, the government will also be carrying out ancillary services. All of this is certainly good news for the solar power sector in India and aims to support the government’s Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY), a policy targeted at overhauling the country’s distressed discoms. It also helps the energy minister Piyush Goyal’s and prime minister Narendra Modi’s vision of 24*7 electricity in the entire country, the remote areas being well untouched of electricity. However, this target would also involve deploying a huge number of coal-fired plants apart from the increased solar capacity.

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Cochin International Airport is set to become the first airport not just in India but across the globe to run entirely on solar power. The airport’s 12 MW solar plant with 46,150 solar panels is spread across 45 acres of land close to its international cargo section. The project has been awarded to Bosch Ltd. and includes 1MW capacity inverters from ABB India and 265 W capacity modules from Renesola. The installation is expected to generate over 48,000 units of electricity each day which in conjunction with the existing 1.1 MW plants would generate enough electricity to meet the airport’s daily power requirements for operational functions which stands at 5000-6000 units.

The airport first took the solar path back in March 2013 when it installed a 100 kW solar rooftop plant on its Arrival Terminal block. This plant was installed by Vikram Solar Pvt. Ltd. and has a total of 400 polycrystalline modules of 250 W with five 20 kW inverters. This is a grid connected system with no battery storage. It also has a 1 MW plant partly on the ground and partly on the rooftop in the aircraft hangar section. It is equipped with Delta-make string inverters. These plants are equipped with the SCADA system which carries out remote monitoring.

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Source: Hindu Businessline

After being commissioned, these plants have saved over 550 MT of CO2 emissions, thus contributing towards the Cochin Airport’s constant efforts towards the minimization of environmental degradation. This has set an example for more such initiatives to take place in other states and other industries across the country, helping our environment in the long run.

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In a bid to meet its rather ambitious target of 175 GW of installed renewable energy target by March 2022, the Indian Ministry for Power, Coal, and Renewable Energy, in November last year, announced that all charges relating to inter-state transmission of electricity from renewable energy projects would be abolished.

This is a move that is being seen as crucial for the successful implementation for this target. The government is aiming at setting up about 20 GW of solar capacity across the country through 25 ultra mega solar power projects. Since all Indian states are obliged to purchase solar power but lack the necessary resources to generate power in-state, power from these projects will be supplied to neighbouring states as well.

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Source: Hindu

Already, nine states are reported to be willing to get rid of the long list of charges levied on all inter-state transmissions. Among others, these include banking, cross-subsidy and wheeling. Abolishing of these charges will have a positive impact on the final cost borne by consumers. This move is also expected to make renewable energy-based power attractive to both commercial and industrial consumers that want low-cost renewable energy-based power supply.

India’s current target for renewable energy’s market share in the power sector stands at 40%, to be achieved by 2030. The government is also aiming at 15% share of renewable energy in the country’s total power consumption by 2022, which will include at least 3% specifically from solar power. To this end, it has already launched the ‘Green Energy Corridors’ project to implement a grid of transmission lines designed for renewable energy projects.

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Recently, India selected a total of 50 municipalities all across the country to develop into ‘solar cities’, with each of these cities aiming at a minimum of 10% reduction in conventional energy demand within the next five years. This lofty objective will be carried out through the installation of several renewable energy technologies such as wind, solar, hydro and biomass energy. Depending on the availability of resources in each city, energy efficiency measures will be undertaken.

According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), plans for 46 out of the 50 cities are already in place. The total cost for the project is close to INR236.9 million, out of which INR61.0 million have been sanctioned and released. For the preparation of the master plan, each city is eligible to receive up to INR5.0 million.

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Source: The Hindu

According to a consulting manager at the solar consulting firm Bridge to India, on the release of MNRE funds, it will be up to the municipal corporations to carry out the plans. The solar cities policy will make an important part of the government’s target of achieving 40GW of rooftop solar power by 2022.

The 50 cities part of the solar cities plan are: Guwahati, Jorhat, Hubli-Dharwad, Mysore, Amritsar, Ludhiana, Mohali, Jodhpur, Bhubaneswar, Aizawl, Agra, Moradabad, Allahabad, Rajkot, Gandhinagar, Surat, Nagpur, Kalyan-Dombiwali, Thane, Aurangabad, Nanded, Gwalior, Rewa, Imphal, Kohima, Dimapur, Dehradun, Haridwar-Rishikesh, Chamoli-Gopeshwar, Chandigarh, Gurgaon, Faridabad,  Coimbatore, Vijayawada, Bilaspur, Raipur, Agartala, Panaji City & Environs, Itanagar, Hamirpur, Shimla Shirdi, Ajmer, New Town Kolkata, Howrah, Madhyamgram, New Delhi, Puducherry, Kochi and Bhopal.

“In-principle” approvals have already been granted to these five cities: Thiruvananthapuram, Jaipur, Indore, Leh and Mahbubnagar.

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