First Solar Looks To Growing India Market

When First Solar (FSLR) delivered its surprisingly solid quarterly results in August, after more than a year of turmoil, company executives credited a focus on utility-scale project development, and said they hoped to keep the ball rolling by doing more business outside the United States.

Here’s a step in that direction: The company this week announced a deal to supply its thin-film modules for two solar PV plants totaling 50 megawatts in India’s Rajasthan state.

first solar india

image via Belelectric

Now, 50 MW is a solid order, but it’s not enough by itself to make a huge difference to the bottom line. And it doesn’t appear as though First Solar is leading the development of these projects, a business model (plan it, build it, run it) the company has followed in the U.S. to good success.

Still, First Solar noted that the Rajasthan plants are part of “a second batch of utility-scale solar projects concluded under India’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission,” and the goal with that initiative is to install 20,000 MW of solar capacity in the next 10 years. With that potential pot of gold sitting at the end of the PV rainbow, it’s easy to see why First Solar is so focused on the India market.

export-import bank, u.s. solar manufacturing

image via First Solar

And reaching into the Indian market, First Solar has benefited from some government assistance, though not in a way that actually costs taxpayers money.

Last November, the U.S. Export-Import Bank said an $84.3 million direct loan to Dahanu Solar Power would support the purchase of First Solar modules (as well as gear from other U.S. exporters), for a 40-MW PV plant in Rajasthan.

The Ex-Im Bank said at the time that Indian banks were beginning to finance solar deals under a couple of different national initititives, but that “support was needed due to a general lack of available long-term financing at commercially feasible terms.”

First Solar’s big advantage on projects is its low panel-manufacturing cost, and the company said it offers another edge on utility-scale projects in hot weather locations, like India: At high temperatures, all photovoltaic panels decline in efficiency, but CdTe panels decline at about half the rate of crystalline silicon panels. That could bring First Solar’s typically lower efficiency on par with c-Si panels in some situations, boosting their value.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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