India’s solar mission awards projects worth 620 MW to 37 companies

India’s Solar Mission, aimed at generating 20,000 megawatts of solar power in the country over the next decade, has generated a positive response since it was launched in January, a government agency said.

The auction is the latest initiative in the Indian government’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, which aims to increase the country’s solar capacity to 20 GW by 2022. To date, the government has awarded 800 MW of grid-connected projects out of the 1,100 MW targeted under the mission’s first phase; bids for the remaining 300 MW are expected to be finalised over the next few months.

State-owned NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam, the agency responsible for the sale and purchase of grid-connected solar power, said Tuesday it had received 300 bids for solar photovoltaic plants and 44 for concentrated solar energy projects in India, the Business Standard newspaper of India reports.

The Indian government also announced Tuesday that 30 companies had been chosen to receive government subsidies for generating solar power, The Wall Street Journal reports. However, these companies would be prohibited for the next several months from importing certain types of solar panels that convert sunlight into electricity. Then a complete ban takes effect in April.

While senior officials in Washington have expressed concern about the trade restrictions with New Delhi, Indian officials said they don’t intend to ease the current restrictions or postpone the upcoming full ban, the Journal said.

The newspaper quoted a spokesman for the office of the U.S. Trade Representative as saying that "limiting access to high-quality solar equipment that is available outside India is likely to only frustrate" India’s plans to boost solar power production and "discourage further investors from developing solar projects in India."

Pointing out that India plans to spend $20 billion just in the first few years of the solar program, Gauri Singh, an official in India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, said, "You don’t put in that kind of money unless you can say it’s going to bring manufacturing into the country and jobs into the country."

She stressed that foreign companies, through joint ventures, would be permitted to set up manufacturing facilities in India. In related news, the Asian Development Bank announced Tuesday that it has earmarked $150 million for guaranteeing 50 percent of loans that international and Indian banks make for solar projects that have less than 30 megawatts of capacity in India.

"In a bid to reduce the perceived risk with solar projects that banks may be funding, we have decided to share 50 percent of their exposure structure," said Sujata Gupta, head of ADB’s private sector group in India, Press Trust of India reports. India gets about 10 percent of its electricity from renewable resources, most of it from wind energy.