Solar energy blooms in India

Gujarat solar 1

While solar panel makers have suffered big losses in the past year, solar projects in emerging markets such as China and India have benefited. The Indian state of Gujarat — a hot bed of solar power development over the past year — will throw a big party on Thursday to celebrate the commissioning of 600 MW of solar energy projects over just one year, the state government said.

A big chunk of the projects – 214 MW of them – have risen from a solar park in the Patan district. The rest are scattered throughout the state, which two years ago announced a solar policy to subsidize installations. Since then, the state has signed contracts to buy power from nearly 970 MW of projects, said Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s chief minister, in a statement.

The state has attracted many U.S. solar manufacturers and project developers. SunEdison, part of Missouri-based MEMC Electronic Materials, announced Wednesday that it just completed a 25 MW solar plant in the solar park in Patan. Overall, SunEdison has brought online 45 MW of solar projects in Gujarat, the company said.

We’ve chronicled the rise of India as an important solar market (and for cleantech in general) over the past year. The country has a huge population and a big pool of poor residents with no access to grid electricity. It also wants to reduce its growing greenhouse gas emissions. The national government announced the National Solar Mission in January 2010 to set a goal of installing 20 GW of grid-connected solar and 2 GW of off-grid solar by 2022. It has since held auctions to get the lowest price possible from project developers.

The national program is separate from state programs such as the one by Gujarat, which sets the primeium prices it would pay for solar electricity. The state has attracted major U.S., German and Chinese manufacturers and project developers. Solar panel prices have fallen around 50 percent over the past year because supply has outstripped demand worldwide. Many manufacturers have had to shutter factories and gone bankrupt, but the price decline has been good news for project developers. First Solar and SunPower both announced factory closures this week.

First Solar has aggressively courted installers in the country and first announced its first sales in late 2010. The company’s ability to make solar panels cheaply and its choice of technology – the use of cadmium-telluride to convert sunlight into electricity – have helped it win customers not only in Gujarat but the rest of the country. The national government has its own solar incentive program, but it favors domestic solar manufacturers but only if they use silicon in their panels.

MiaSole, a Silicon Valley startup, also is targeting India with its copper-indium-gallium-selenide solar panels: 8 MW of projects are completed or under construction using its solar panels. MiaSole, along with several other U.S. manufacturers, have benefited from loans or loan guarantees approved by the Export-Import Bank of the United States to promote the sale of U.S. goods abroad. The bank also has financed Indian solar projects that use panels from U.S. manufacturers such as First Solar, Abound Solar and SolarWorld (the German solar panel maker has a factory in Oregon).

Over 50 companies have built solar power projects in Gujarat. Aside from SunEdison, others include Tata Power, Lanco Solar, Moser Baer, Adani Enterprises and GMR  Gujarat Solar Power.

Gujarat also is big on wind energy – 2,580 MW of wind power plants have been installed as of end of January this year.

Photo courtesy of the state of Gujarat

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