A solar miscalculation: a big delay in power projects in India

Nearly 500 MW of solar power plants are supposed to be commissioned this month under a national solar program in India, but none will meet that deadline.

The Indian government has decided to wait on imposing fines on the project developers, who have cited a variety of reasons for why they couldn’t complete the projects, according to market research firm Bridge to India in a weekly update on Monday.

This particular solar program promotes the use of concentrating solar thermal technology, which relies mirrors to concentrate sunlight and uses that heat to produce steam, which then drives a turbine and generator to produce electricity. This type of technology also will be used by several large-scale power plants under construction in California and Arizona, including the one by BrightSource Energy in California’s Mojave Desert that is scheduled to come online by the end of this year.

India in the early years of adding solar into its energy mix. The national government published a policy in 2010 that called for adding 20 GW of grid-connected solar energy and 2 GW of off-grid solar by 2022. Several Indian states also have their own solar incentive programs. That has made India a hot emerging market for solar equipment makers, including First Solar. The country is short on power supply and doesn’t have a stable electric grid, and it relies heavily on coal-fired power plants.

Project delays in India have been known for some time, and I wrote about it last November. Developers said they have had problems securing equipment and finalizing financing. But there is a “main, unstated cause of delay” for all these projects, Bridge to India said. Apparently developers have overestimated the amount of solar radiation, or direct normal irradiance, at their project sites! The lower irradiance means their power plants wouldn’t be able to produce as much energy as they initially expected. That will cost them some of their profits. Some developers have thought about relocating or even canceling their projects, the market research firm said.