SunEdison unveils plans for $4bn Indian solar fab

SunEdison boosted its ambitious expansion into the growing Indian solar market over the weekend as it unveiled plans to develop a $4 billion solar panel factory in the state of Gujarat.

The U.S. solar company, which recently announced a 5 GW PV push in the state of Rajasthan, has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Adani Group that will see the two companies collaborate on what will become India’s largest solar factory of its kind.

The fab, which will be completed over the next three to four years, will be located in the western Indian state of Gujarat with the overall aim to lower local production costs and slash domestic reliance on imported solar components.

Gujarat is the home state of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has pushed through a series of policies in support of solar power since his election last May. This latest announcement will help bolster India’s fledgling – but growing – solar sector, which currently brings around 3 GW to the country’s 255 GW energy table.

However, bold plans to expand India’s solar footprint are in the offing. The government recently increased its 2022 PV target from 20 GW to 100 GW, and has tasked local private companies and foreign investors to help make that goal a reality.

Vibrant investment

The SunEdison-Adani deal was announced on Sunday at a "Vibrant Gujarat" event held to encourage more direct investment in the region. Adani Enterprises is the holding company of energy and infrastructure entity Adani Group, and will work directly with SunEdison to develop all of the vertically integrated aspects of solar panel production onsite.

The single fab will cover polysilicon refining, panel and cell production, and wafer production too. The plant is expected to create some 20,000 jobs and encourage both greater foreign investment in the region as well as more local manufacturing, said SunEdison CEO and president, Ahmad Chatila.

"This facility will create ultra-low cost solar panels that will enable us to produce electricity so cost-effectively that it can compete head-to-head – unsubsidized and without incentives – with fossil fuels," said Chatila. "By pairing SunEdison’s solar technology expertise with Adani’s extensive experience in the create of infrastructure, we will be able to transform the region into a solar production powerhouse."

The joint venture is expected to become part-operational within 18 months, with the fully integrated plant operating at full utilization some 3-4 years from now.

The backdrop to this announcement continues to be dominated by the ongoing uncertainty created by the trade dispute between India and the U.S. The World Trade Organization (WTO) has heard complaints from U.S. companies that India’s domestic content requirements on solar cell and module procurement is unduly prohibitive. These rumblings have since spurred a steady flow of investment in India’s local manufacturing capacity.

Rural maneuvers

Meanwhile, SunEdison also announced at the weekend further plans to augment its rural solar offering in India with the development of 250 MW of PV projects across 5,000 locations.

The arrangement will seen SunEdison partner with India’s Omnigrid Micropower Company (OMC) to expand upon the existing 36 kW of micropower plants installed by OMC in India. Once completed, this 250 MW project will provide clean electricity to 10 million people.

"Solar electricity costs have come down dramatically and continue to come down, thus making it a better choice than conventional fossil sources," said Chatila. "We don’t have to make a false choice between cost and clean power any more.

"While a 1 GW coal power plant can take three to four years to be developed and constructed, and a nuclear power plant with a similar capacity can take 5 to 10 years, a solar PV plant can be developed and built in less than a year and can compete on costs."

According to SunEdison’s president of Asia Pacific operations, Pasupathy Gopalan, the company has already begun construction of 60 mini grids across India, with the OMC partnership set to accelerate that pace of development dramatically.