There are few international markets on the lips of solar developers more frequently than India at this moment in time and, encouragingly, few countries better placed to help with its ambitions than the UK.
That was the message sent at the British Photovoltaic Association’s (BPVA) India Solar Day, held in London earlier this week, which brought officials from Rajasthan’s central government together with British and European solar developers together to discuss just how a mutually beneficial relationship between the two parties could work.
The event is the culmination of a trade delegation which travelled to India earlier this year comprising of then DECC junior minister Baroness Verma, BPVA chairman Reza Shaybani and a number of senior figures from the UK solar industry.
India has set some hugely ambitious targets for itself as it lurches towards the cusp of a solar revolution, powered by soaring energy demands and the need to cap carbon emissions. Prime Minister Narendra Modi – known as a committed proponent of solar technology – wants India to have 100GW of solar in the country by 2020, with the most likely region to see substantial development being Rajasthan.
Speaking at the event, Rajasthan’s chief secretary CS Rajan explained that the region was ripe for solar development with its 325 days of sunlight and ample developable land. Such is the confidence in Rajasthan posing as India’s ‘solar capital’ that the region’s government has set itself the target of establishing 25GW of solar capacity– a quarter of India’s entire target, leaving a considerable amount of work to be done on Rajasthan’s current solar capacity of just over 1GW.
The Rajasthan Solar Energy Policy, which was drafted last year and came into effect 8 August 2014, sets out how the state intends to achieve this by establishing an environment in which state-owned or private enterprises can add to the mix through either public private partnerships or on their own. Solar PV is the favoured technology and while rooftop solar is to be promoted through a net metering scheme, the state has a particular penchant for ground-mounted solar farms given its plentiful land assets.
And this is where the UK’s solar developers come in. A mutually beneficial relationship can be formed with UK companies offering developmental expertise and experience in exchange for permitted projects. There’s a significant opportunity for developers willing to pitch up in India, and even the often troublesome nature of land acquisition is being ironed out. Proposed projects in excess of 500MW will be fast tracked, while government land stands to be allocated for solar projects as per the provisions of Rajasthan’s Land Revenue.
The UK Green Investment Bank (GIB) is one such organisation with a keen eye on India’s solar future. GIB director Amit Rama explained at the event how a £200 million pilot fund has been established by the bank with the sole aim of establishing projects in emerging markets, with India a key focus.
Rama said success of the scheme could lead to more involvement from the GIB in the Indian market, a factor which is likely to serve as an endorsement for other firms who might have otherwise remained trepidatious about entering a relatively unknown market.
But that isn’t to say there aren’t obstacles in the road. India’s grid is outdated and unreliable, and huge doubts remain over whether or not it will stand up the challenge of having such sizable amounts of capacity loaded in what is still a relatively short space of time. Financing such large-scale projects also remains a problem, so developers that bring with them the requisite finance will benefit from a considerable head start in getting projects off the ground.
There is, perhaps predictably, also a huge clamour from other nations to nestle with India’s authorities, particularly from Chinese developers who have already secured lucrative contracts. Modi visited China earlier this month and a number of MoUs were signed between Chinese and Indian companies for solar cell and module manufacturing. Canadian Solar is to partner with India’s Sun Group to generate 5GW of solar power in India and will also manufacture modules in the country, while Trina will set up a PV industry park with India’s Welspun Energy in the coming years. JA Solar was also in on the act, signing an MoU with India’s Essel Group to establish manufacturing facilities in India.
The MoUs form part of India’s desire to keep as much manufacturing within the country as possible despite the need for its solar industry to develop rapidly if it is to stand any chance of meeting Modi’s ambitious aims. Unlike the US and Europe, India is not expected to take anti-dumping measures against China and could instead adopt a Turkey-esque drive to reward projects that support domestic businesses in some way.
Consultancy firm Bridge to India estimated the three deals to be worth up to US$260 million but expressed caution that without firmer contracts, such MoUs mean little and do not equate to guaranteed business. However such deals only lend weight to India coming to the fore as a market that nations, and developers, are falling over themselves to support and enter in its infancy.
Nick Boyle, managing director at Lightsource, spoke of his firm’s desire to do just that, a move which could possibly represent Lightsource’s first foray outside of the UK. Boyle attended the trade delegation to India and has previously spoke of the country’s potential, so it was perhaps not surprising for him to broach the topic of Lightsource entering India sooner rather than later. Belectric UK MD Toddington Harper also spoke at the event of his firm’s interest in the country while having the benefit of an already-established office in Mumbai.
With the UK’s utility-scale market looking all the more difficult to crack under a Contracts for Difference regime than the previous Renewable Obligation Certificates, India has emerged as a market that not only needs solar capacity, but wants it too. Modi’s target of 100GW of solar capacity by 2020 is unlikely to be reached but authorities in the country – particularly those in Rajasthan – appear to want to give the country every chance of doing so. UK-based developers are in an envious position of having the requisite expertise and experience that India so desperately needs, and in that respect this could be the start of a mutually beneficial relationship. What’s all important for UK firms is getting started on the ground work now.