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India unveils 37 National Solar Mission project winners

India has unveiled the 37 companies set to tackle the first wave of projects under the National Solar Mission, many with little or no experience in the sector.

Seven developers were allocated concentrating solar power (CSP) licenses totaling 470MW, with individual project sizes ranging from 20MW to 100MW.

Thirty others were granted PV licenses totaling 150MW, carved into 5MW parcels. The other 350MW of PV capacity to be awarded in the mission’s first phase will be dished out next year.

The list of PV winners is an incongruous cocktail of firms, betraying the government’s dueling desires to incubate renewables start-ups while also attracting deep-pocketed energy incumbents into the sector.

PV winners include ascendant Delhi-based renewables developer Azure Power, industrial conglomerate Punj Lloyd, Karnataka’s state-run power utility, and the Indian subsidiary of US-based solar developer SunEdison.

The Indian government established a maximum payout for PV projects of 17.91 rupees ($0.40) per kWh, but sources say the winning bids fell between 11-13 rupees – a level many observers fret could be uneconomic given the inchoate state of the local supply chain.

PV projects must reach financial closure within 180 days from the signing of the PPA – likely to occur in early 2011 -- and they must be commissioned within 12 months.

Controversy continues to swirl over the recent PV tender and the upcoming 350MW round, with developers arguing for larger project sizes in order to bring down costs.

The government counters that the first rounds are merely intended to whet the appetites of developers, with later tenders – set to total 20GW by 2022 – to be tailored toward reaching better economies of scale.

As previously reported, three firms – Lanco Infratech, KVK Energy Ventures and Reliance Power through its subsidiary Rajasthan Sun Technique – were granted 100MW CSP projects.

Three others – Megha Engineering and Infrastructures, Godawari Power and Corporate Ispat Alloys – won 50MW projects, while Aurum Renewable Energy was given a 20MW license.

None of the solar-thermal winners have any experience building such projects.

CSP projects must also reach closure within 180 days from the signing of the PPA, but they have 28 months for construction given their larger scale and the lack of manufacturers targeting the sector at present.

Ernst & Young recently named India the world’s second most attractive country for solar-energy investment, trailing only the US. Unlike most countries, it is judged to have exceptionally high potential for both PV and CSP.