India witnessed a new record-low solar power tariff in one of the recently concluded national level tenders. The new tariff bid is 3% lower than the previous record-low bid which was first discovered in 2017 and then twice in 2018.
New Record-Low Solar Tariff
The Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) bid out 2 gigawatts of solar power capacity late last month in an auction dominated by foreign project developers. Spanish, Italian, French, German, and British companies bagged sizeable shares in the tender while quoting aggressively low tariffs. The lowest tariff bid was submitted by Solarpack, a Spanish developer. The company submitted a bid to develop 300 megawatts of capacity at Rs 2.36 (US¢3.16) per kilowatt hour. The previous low in India’s solar power sector was Rs 2.44 (US¢3.27) per kilowatt hour. The tariff was quoted by Acme Cleantech in three different tenders.
Apart from Solarpack, the Indian subsidiaries of Enel Green Power, Eden Renewable, and ib vogt secured large capacities in the highly contested auction. Each of these companies had bid to develop 300 megawatts of capacity. Canada-based Amp Energy Group secured a 100-megawatt project. One of India’s largest renewable energy companies — ReNew Power — bid for 1,200 megawatts but could only manage to secure 400 megawatts. Solarpack and Enel Green Power issued press releases with details of project capacities and associated capital cost. The two companies are expected to invest over US$300 million to develop these projects.
Huge Interest in Tender
Signs of a highly competitive auction were visible when interested developers submitted their initial capacity bids. Against an offered capacity of 2 gigawatts, 11 developers had committed to develop nearly 5.3 gigawatts of capacity. India’s largest power generation company, NTPC Limited, had submitted a bid to develop 1,180 megawatts. Some major companies that had initially expressed interest in the tender but either did not participate in the auction or failed to bag any capacity include O2 Power, Tata Power Renewables, Azure Power, and NTPC.
Indian Developers Stay Away
While Azure Power, Tata Power Renewables, and NTPC submitted bids in the initial round, they did not participate or manage to secure any capacity during the financial bidding round. A few other major developers stayed away from the tender entirely. Acme Cleantech, Hero Future Energies, and Adani Green Energy are some of the leading domestic developers that decided not to participate. Some of the Indian developers have been struggling financially for the last few years. Some, like Acme, Hero Future Energies, Azure Power, Tata Power Renewables, Adani Green Energy, and ReNew Power have sold assets or equity to raise funds.
Alignment of Multiple Factors Resulted in Low Bid
No single factor can be pointed out as the reason for such aggressive bids, but rather an alignment of multiple factors seem responsible for this new record-low bid.
India had imposed a safeguard duty on Chinese and Malaysian solar modules in 2018. The duty was imposed to protect interests of domestic manufacturers of solar cells and modules, as China accounted for up to 85% of all solar modules imported in India. This safeguard duty is set to expire at the end of this month. Understandably, this will substantially reduce the capital cost for setting up new projects.
India is contemplating replacing the safeguard duty with a customs duty. However, the government has clarified that developers can recover the resulting additional financial cost from buyers.
Over the last few months, the Indian government has exhibited major support for the renewable energy sector. Amid the COVID lockdown, project developers were allowed automatic extensions for commissioning deadlines. Additionally, despite the drastic decline in power demand the government made sure that buyers did not back down renewable energy projects and all generation from these projects was procured. The government also ensured that renewable energy generators continue to receive payments for the power generated. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy repeatedly issued orders asking utilities to ensure timely payments are made to renewable energy generators.
Power distribution companies that buy renewable power owe billions of dollars to generators. The government announced a $12 billion loan package for distribution companies to help them pay outstanding dues to all power generators, including renewable energy generators. Such steps seem to have provided some sense of confidence among developers that the government remains commitment to promotion of renewable energy sector. Despite India missing its renewable energy targets over the last few years, the government remains fully committed to the sector. The government is looking to expand a renewable purchase obligation for distribution companies.
A large number of projects have faced construction delays and are expected to miss their commissioning deadlines. Solar and wind energy projects commissioned by 31 December 2022 are exempted from transmission fees for 25 years. The government recently indicated that it may extend this deadline. This could allow even newer projects to take advantage for this exemption.
Another important reason for the record-low tariffs is oversupply of modules resulting from a slowdown in construction activities due to COVID lockdown. Chinese manufacturers were the first to shut as well as to resume production facilities. While several of them had started production by March or April, construction activities were at a standstill in other parts of the world. This resulted in a glut of new solar cells and modules with no takers. As construction activity picks up, developers are expected to capitalize on the oversupply and lower prices.
Like several other countries, India has also reduced its lending rates sharply to offset the adverse economic impact of COVID outbreak. The Reserve Bank of India has taken a number of measures to ensure companies have easy access to ample liquidity. Apart from specific lending and liquidity windows, the Reserve Bank also announced moratoriums on existing loan facilities and easier terms to raise money from bond markets. All these measures will reduce the cost of debt, specifically for capital-intensive businesses like power project development.
It remains to be seen if the Indian market has actually found a bottom in solar tariff bids or if there remains some more scope for reduction in tariffs. However, with such low tariffs one can expect that only those developers with deep pockets would be able to compete. This could result in emergence of new, and multiple, leaders in the Indian market.
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