First Solar Aims for Indian Solar Market

As promised, First Solar (s FLSR) will see its solar panels installed in India next year. The company announced Thursday a deal to ship 15 MW of its cadmium-telluride panels to ACME Tele Power by March of next year.

ACME plans to install the panels in the state of Gujarat. First Solar has talked about tackling the Indian market for over a year. The company’s 2009 annual report noted that the Indian government had announced a national goal to install 20 GW of solar by 2022 and was set to start a feed-in tariff program in 2010. First Solar had no sales in India in 2009.

The agreement with ACME isn’t the first Indian deal for First Solar, however. The company inked a smaller deal in India before, but the buyer didn’t publicize it, said First Solar spokesman, Alan Bernheimer, who declined to provide details.

Executives at the Tempe, Ariz.-based company talked about their plans to move into India recently. Rob Gillette told analysts during a quarterly earnings call in October that the company’s panels would rise from the ground in India next year.

Incidentally, First Solar announced this bit of good news before it’s set to disclose its 2011 forecast next Tuesday.

India is mentioned in the same breath as China in the cleantech circles because of its policy makers’ ambitious renewable energy goals and, of course, the size of the country. Lack of consistent electricity delivery is a serious issue in many corners of India.

The country ranked No. 10 in private clean energy investments in 2009, but it could rise to third over the next 10 years, according to a report issued by the Pew Charitable Trust this week. If India abides by the climate change agreement put forth in Copenhagen last year, then it could see the clean power project investments shoot up to $125 billion over the next decade; the number could go up to $169 billion if the country adopts more aggressive policies, the report said.

The Indian government did launch a quasi feed-in tariff program this year as part of its National Solar Mission. But that program isn’t attracting some key developers, who said they didn’t want to participate because the borrowing costs were too high, Bloomberg reported. Tata Power, the largest non-government owned power producer, said it would skip the program for now.

The state of Gujarat, where First Solar’s panels will land, also has its own solar incentive program.

Feed-in tariffs are government-set prices for electricity that utilities must pay. It’s typically a lot higher than the price for conventional power generated by fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. The concept has made Germany and other European countries the hottest solar markets.

The Canadian province of Ontario launched a feed-in tariff program in October 2009 and became a magnet for manufactures and project developers, as well as protests about its policy that requires some of the equipment to be made in Ontario. Earlier this week, First Solar announced that it was selling 40 megawatts of projects it had been developing in Ontario to NextEra Energy Resources. First Solar will not only supply the panels but also build the power plants.

India’s feed-in tariff program comes with a twist. The government sets prices more as guidelines and asks developers to bid for projects. The lowest bidders win.

ACME has shopped for American solar technologies before. In 2009, the group announced a $30 million investment in eSolar and plans to build 1 GW of power plants in India using eSolar’s solar thermal technology, which uses flat mirrors to concentrate and direct the sunlight to generate steam for running electricity generators.

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Photo courtesy of Emmanuel Dyan