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Despite low tariffs, global capital continues to support India’s solar ambitions: IEEFA

A new study by IEEFA and JMK Research & Analytics says that lucrative tariffs in the solar sector provide enormous opportunities to invest

  • Current tariffs in the Indian solar sector (hovering at Rs 2.50-2.87/kWh) have stabilised at rates about 20-30% below the cost of existing thermal power in India, the study said

  • SECI and India’s largest power generation company NTPC played a key role in building international investor interest, it added

New Delhi: A new study revealing that current tariffs in the Indian solar sector (hovering at Rs 2.50-2.87/kWh) have stabilised at rates about 20-30 percent below the cost of existing thermal power in India, and up to half the price of new coal-fired power, concludes that the lucrative prices provide enormous opportunities to invest in clean, zero-emissions energy. The study undertaken by IEEFA and JMK Research & Analytics compared domestic tariffs and the conditions enabling project returns, with the results juxtaposed against solar developer expectations.

Their findings have been published in a new report titled Developers and Global Investors Snap Up India’s Solar Power Tenders – Decoding Tariffs vs Returns for Solar Projects in India.

‘Developers have reduced return expectations from 14% to 12%’

Co-author Vibhuti Garg, IEEFA energy economist, said, “Developers have already reduced their return expectations from 14 percent to 12 percent, with tariffs being achieved as low as Rs 2.5/kWh.” Garg added, “While this rate is very competitive compared to thermal plant tariffs, and lucrative for power distribution companies entering long-term power purchase agreements, this is a floor for developers if they want to make money.” 

SECI and NTPC played a key role in building global interest

The authors found SECI (Solar Energy Corporation of India) and India’s largest power generation company NTPC played a key role in building international investor interest. Contractual certainty is in place with counter-party and payment risk assurance from these central government agencies.

Co-author Jyoti Gulia of JMK Research says conditions in India are very different from other energy markets. “We found a number of competing concerns in our analysis,” says Gulia. “Interest rates, module costs, and capacity utilisation factors (CUF) in particular, have a major impact on solar tariffs and project returns.”

The cost of financing is a big element in determining tariffs and returns, according to the report. Significantly higher interest rates in India compared to other leading renewable energy countries, is one of the reasons for higher domestic tariffs. The zero indexation for the 25-year period is also a key value for India that is not explicit in the Year-1 tariff. “The landed cost of imported modules at a time of currency devaluation is also adversely affecting tariffs, however, this might be compensated by the falling module prices.

‘Crucial for project developers to factor in risk’

The authors also found that capacity utilisation factors differ across states in India, in light of significant variations in solar resource quality. “Any drop in utilisation rates has a significant impact on project returns. As per our report findings, a 3 percent drop in CUF results in over 7 percent fall in equity returns,” the report said. Garg said developers must be mindful of all the parameters impacting tariffs when bidding.

“To earn reasonable returns on project investments, it is crucial for project developers to factor in the risks and rightfully estimate the costs of every component,” said Garg.