India to double large-scale solar target to 40 GW by 2020, says minister

India will seek to double its already-ambitious 2020 target for large-scale solar as it attempts to plug a shortfall in rooftop demand and salve the wounds caused by SunEdison’s recent bankruptcy.

The secretary of India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Upendra Tripathy, told news agency Reuters that the MNRE has set a new generation target of 40 GW of large-scale solar PV capacity by 2020, up from 20 GW, as the country explores all avenues on the path towards its wider 100 GW of solar by 2022 goal.

Bankrupt U.S. clean energy developer SunEdison has inadvertently triggered this acceleration in ambition, Tripathy said, as India looks to create an additional "25 solar parks to create a buffer for exigencies like SunEdison", he told Reuters.

SunEdison’s aggressive entry into the Indian large-scale solar market saw it win a 500 MW solar project in Andhra Pradesh at a record-low tariff of INR 4.63/kWh ($0.0706/kWh) last November. At the time, this bid was described as "very unexpected" and "unattractive" in terms of IRR by experts in the Indian power sector.

Since then, the firm’s bankruptcy has thrown into doubt the future of the Andhra Pradesh project, particularly at such a low price promised by SunEdison. Many other global firms have turned their attentions to India’s solar market in recent months, including Finland’s Fortum and Japan’s Softbank Corp., with foreign investment levels increasing to record levels.

According to the MNRE, to reach India’s solar ambitions the country has to attract as much as $90 billion in investment. A few weeks ago the World Bank provided $1 billion in loans to the country’s National Solar Mission (JNNSM), while yesterday it was reported that imports of solar PV cells and modules into India had multiplied by more than three times over the course of a year, reaching $2.3 billion in 2015-2016.

"Manufacturers from the U.S., China and other countries are supplying solar cells and modules in India and in some cases, the price is much lower than what is being offered by domestic manufacturers," said New and Renewable Energy Minister Piyush Goyal.

The JNNSM lays out guidelines for India’s PV adoption that includes stringent Domestic Content Requirements (DCR) in certain states during certain stages or batches, but the World Trade Organization (WTO) has ruled against this, leading the Indian government to appeal the motion. This tit-for-tat drama is seen as an unwelcome distraction for the country’s solar ambitions, and has long been seen as contradictory – India wants solar at the cheapest price possible, but is trying to limit the import of cheaper solar cells and modules.

In the distributed generation segment, India’s previous target was for a cumulative capacity of 40 GW of rooftop solar by 2022, but reams of regulatory red-tape continue to inhibit this sector’s growth.