India PV rules spark 300MW factory

India’s Lanco Infratech will build a 300MW PV cell plant in Chhattisgarh state, following confirmation from Delhi that there will be a significant carve-out for domestic manufacturers in the next solar tender round.

Lanco will reportedly invest some 30bn rupees ($550m) into the cell facility, with US-based GT Advanced in the frame to kit out the factory with its ingot furnaces.

Commercial production will commence from mid-2014, with Lanco hoping to export at least 15% of output, according to local media.

Lanco – one of India’s largest integrated infrastructure companies and a key player in the country’s fast growing solar sector – already maintains a PV module-assembly plant at the Chhattisgarh site.

Lanco has been among the most vocal proponents of the inclusion of stiffer domestic content rules in future phases of India’s National Solar Mission (NSM).

Indian PV manufacturers such as Indosolar and Moser Baer have captured a relatively modest size of the domestic market to date. They accuse Chinese producers – but also those based in western countries like the US – of having received unfair support from governments back home.

Delhi has confirmed that in the next NSM tender for grid-connected PV – expected to offer up 750MW by the end of the month – it will reserve a significant amount of capacity for developers using domestically produced kit.

Recent reports put the carve-out at around 300MW.

The Indian government hopes the split will lower tensions with key trading partners like the US – by not totally excluding foreign suppliers – while also encouraging embattled domestic producers.

Foreign thin-film PV producers are seen as the biggest losers from this new strategy. Having benefitted from a loophole in the domestic content rules included in the first phases of the NSM, they will now be forced to compete directly with suppliers of crystalline silicon modules.

Separately, Delhi confirmed that it will grant clemency to developers of concentrated solar power (CSP) projects allocated in the first NSM phase, giving them as much as ten months of additional time to wrap up construction.

India’s first seven CSP projects totaling 470MW were supposed to be commissioned this month, but it appears that only one – a 50MW project backed by Godawari Power – is near completion.

The remainder, including one developed by Lanco, and another for which Lanco is acting as contractor, have suffered from a host of issues, ranging from a lack of water to supply-chain shortages to financing challenges.

Without the additional time, the developers would have been on the hook for late penalties of some 2.3bn rupees under the original terms agreed in December 2010, all but dooming the sector.

“This is the first time solar-thermal projects are being built in India and we want them to succeed,” says Tarun Kapoor, joint secretary of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy.

The Indian government is keen to see CSP take off, given its potential for easy energy storage. However, officials acknowledge that the allocation of future CSP projects will depend on the ultimate success of the first generation.