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India’s Adani aims for solar power status

India’s Adani Group, best known in Australia for its controversial $14 billion Galillee Basin coal mine, railroad and port projects, has announced its aim to be the biggest solar power producer in its home country by 2022, with a target capacity of 10 gigawatts (GW).

As part of its plan, it signed a joint venture with the Rajasthan state government on June 15 to set up India’s largest solar park, with Adani committing to build 5 GW of the park’s planned total capacity of 10 GW.

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“We have embarked upon a mission of becoming a world leader in renewable power generation technologies, with a special focus on solar,” group executive chairman Gautam Adani said in announcing the venture.

Adani is India’s largest private-sector thermal power generator, with an installed base of 10.48 GW. In addition to its coal-fired power plants, it operates a 40 MW solar photovoltaic (PV) plant at Kutch in Gujarat state.

India is the world’s fourth largest energy consumer behind China, the United States and Russia, but suffers from poor infrastructure and up to 300 million of its 1.25 billion people lack regular access to electricity. Solar PV is seen as one way of bringing power to its remote communities, particularly as falling costs and recent advances in battery energy storage make solar more economically attractive.

But for now, India overwhelmingly relies on coal to generate power, with most of its thermal coal produced domestically by state-owned Coal India. It also imports between 160 and 200 million tonnes annually, primarily from Australia, Indonesia and South Africa.

Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin, with its 310km railroad and Abbott Point port expansion project, for example, is designed to produce up to 60 million tonnes a year by 2023, with some of this coal supplying the group’s Indian power plants. The Galilee Basin project, which has Queensland state government backing, faces environmental opposition and has yet to firm up its funding. A final investment decision is expected later this year.

India’s total installed power capacity at the end of April was just under 273 GW, according to the Ministry of Power. About 165 GW, or 60.6 per cent, came from coal-fired plants, with gas and oil accounting for another 8.9 per cent, hydro for 15.3 per cent, nuclear 2.1 per cent and other renewables such as solar, wind and biomass providing 35.7 GW of capacity for a 13.1 per cent share.

While hydro is India’s dominant renewable source and wind is a clear second, the falling cost for solar PV panels, their improved efficiency and advances in associated battery storage mean that solar’s potential is looking more and more attractive.

Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Indian government has announced plans to achieve 100 GW of solar capacity by 2022 — up from 2 GW now — as part of its ambitious renewable energy goals. The goal is to set up at least 25 solar parks nationally, each with a capacity of 500 MW or more.

Modi, whose home state of Gujarat is one of the few parts of India with constant, reliable power, has promised to combat the country’s chronic power deficit, which has a major impact on industrial competitiveness, transport, health, food safety and general quality of life.

Inadequate grid infrastructure and rapid growth in power consumption means blackouts, shortages and load shedding are common in many parts of India, prompting businesses and industries to install their own on-site power plants.

Adani said its 50-50 joint venture with the Rajasthan state government will be known as Adani Renewable Energy Park Rajasthan Ltd. It said the proposed park is expected to attract investments worth more than 600 billion rupees (A$12 billion) and will include generation projects — including Adani’s own 5 GW plan — and a plant to manufacture solar modules, parts and equipment. The Rajasthan government will provide land and infrastructure.

“This project will be India’s largest solar park and will also house manufacturing facilities to be set up under the country’s ambitious Make In India initiative,” Gautam Adani said in a statement. He said this was the Adani Group’s contribution towards realising Modi’s campaign for more clean and green energy in India.

Earlier this year, billionaire Anil Ambani’s Reliance Power also said it had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Rajasthan government to set up a 6 GW solar park in the state. Ambani’s group already operates a 40 MW solar PV plant at Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. Other companies including Essel Power and US-based SunEdison have proposed projects there.

Rajasthan has long harboured ambitions of being a global hub for solar power and has set its own goal of 25 GW of solar capacity by 2022. Almost two years ago, in August 2013, the state government laid a foundation stone at Bhadla in Jodphur district for what it said would be the world’s biggest solar park.

According to the state’s investment promotion bureau, Rajasthan has between 300 and 330 sunny days a year, making it “comparable to the deserts of California, Nevada, Colorado and Arizona.” It said the state had a high level of solar radiation and large tracts of relatively flat, undeveloped land.


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