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Over 50% of India’s renewables tender to be concentrated solar thermal

March 05, 2024 |
 by Susan Kraemer
India's CSP tender described by Ajay Kumar Sinha, AGM of Contracts & Procurement at SECI

India’s CSP tender described by Ajay Kumar Sinha, AGM of Contracts & Procurement at SECI (Solar Energy Corporation of India)

India has carved out an unprecedented percentage to come from concentrated solar thermal technologies in its planned renewables tender this year; over 50%.

The news of the tender attracted the world’s key CSP developers and stakeholders to the International Conference on Solar Thermal Technologies, organized by Rajan Varshney, Deputy General Manager at the Indian electricity provider NTPC.

Representatives from the legislative and policymaker sides confirmed the commitment to the extraordinary new policy.

Along with the requirement itself, well-designed additional incentives should cut the risk to CSP developers. These include free permitting, guaranteed grid connection, and very long, low-cost leases on pre-vetted land with excellent DNI, the solar resource utilized by concentrated solar thermal energy.

Generous incentives to be nationwide in India’s CSP tender

At the conference describing India’s CSP tender, national government officials expressed strong support for applying these new policies to the entire nation. With legislator buy-in now at the national (Unity Government) level, these policy incentives would now apply throughout India, in the regions vetted for excellent DNI, the solar resource used by concentrated solar technologies.

“We will try to give for free all the clearances, and we can guarantee grid connection, and offer long-term contracts and facilitate loans for them,” Varshney told SolarPACES in a December interview.

“Already in high DNI areas, some entities are acquiring land for a 99-year lease to the developer so that all the IPP has to do is build, own, and operate. He doesn’t have to transfer. He doesn’t have to bother about all these other things like land acquisition and power evacuation.”

International developers and key suppliers, including ACWA Power, SENER, John Cockerill, Vast and Cosin Solar acknowledged the implications of such a policy.

“Having a piece of land fully permitted without any risk on the agreed interconnection or the ownership of the land? That makes a huge difference,” said Pedro Cabanillas from John Cockerill. The firm supplies key components like receivers to today’s biggest CSP projects.

The conference covered various aspects of concentrated solar and thermal energy storage including solar fuels, greener, cheaper power and the policy and regulatory support and the role of financing companies, de-risking for developers, and the role of carbon credits and carbon assurance for faster Indian decarbonization.

Top representatives from major international CSP projects shared experiences in site and technology selection, construction, commissioning, quality controls and international policy supports. They covered various applications of concentrated solar; from power, energy storage, heating, cooling, cooking, laundry, medical sterilization. Others covered the use of solar in carbon capture, metal refining and green fuels like hydrogen, ammonia and methanol. Speakers described the developments in decentralised CSP for microgrids combining heating, cooling and industrial process heat.

Components manufacturers expressed interest in manufacturing components in India, and discussed the capabilities and manufacturing facilities already available in India. Speakers from academia and start-ups offered regulatory policy suggestions to leverage the inherent strength of dispatchable CSP, discussed advanced research in thermal storage and explained the benefits of hybridizing CSP with intermittent renewables for firm and dispatchable energy.

Real dialogue between policymakers and stakeholders

Questions from the audience for policymakers about India’s CSP tender were quite pointed: How can we achieve a 90% guaranteed solar energy delivery each month when three months of the year is a monsoon?

Representing SECI (Solar Energy Corporation of India), Ajay Sinha, in Contracts & Procurement, was open and receptive to the issue, suggesting that any needed policy adaptation would make it work: “Definitely we’ll look into that, and somehow we will try to answer yes.”

Citing the example of how Spain’s government abruptly cut solar tariffs mid-contract, local contractors wanted to be reassured about the long-term reliability of the new, very generous legislation.

SECI’s Sinha explained that the PPAs would be binding, so developers have security over the PPA period: “We don’t prescribe setting tariffs in general. We prefer to keep it open for the market to decide.”

As one solution to monsoon-driven sunless months, CEO Craig Wood from Vast proposed green hydrogen or ammonia for storage, noting: “We think in the longer term, the opportunities in green fuels are potentially more interesting and more lucrative and larger than some of the power generation opportunities. We can use that heat directly from process heat applications. Or we can use the combination of the heat and power to provide green fuels.”

Vulcan Energy CEO Siddharth Malik from Oman and spokeswoman Theresa Gong from China’s Cosin Solar also suggested retrofitting coal or gas power stations as thermal energy storage.

“Some countries close those coal power plants,” Gong said. “But when there are coal or gas-fired plants of which there are still PPA years but now the agreement targets are in the zero carbon target, we can consider adding molten salt storage to the plant and to replace the coal, the coal burner coal boiler and we can take in the cheap, renewable energy or curtailed renewable PV or wind energy and store that in the form of molten salts and then generate power when during the peak hours.”

International developers received equally focused audience questions.

“How long do molten salts last? How often do you change them?” They essentially don’t degrade over a 35-year contract, explained Cabanillas.“The salts last. There’s no need to change them.”

What was the total cost, including borrowing, for ACWA Power to build the 700 MW DEWA CSP project? $4.3 billion. (DEWA comprises three 200 MW trough CSP plants and a 100 MW tower CSP plant and contracted in 2017 to sell the power at 7.3 cents/kWh)

The background condition for India’s CSP tender decision is the rise of battery adoption, according to Ajay Shankar, Distinguished Fellow, Director-General’s Office at The Energy and Resources Institute.

”Now concentrated solar thermal with storage is a much better option than batteries, which are being propagated worldwide,” Shankar declared.

“And for India, we need to go very speedily in this direction because our renewable transition is being pushed by PV where we don’t get to see any electricity at night. We need storage now. We need to bring CSP in quickly and scale up rapidly.”

CEA, the Central Electricity Authority  (the Electricity planning department of Government of India) has projected that India needs 74 gigawatts of storage by 2032. Since CSP offers the cheapest storage, India should be on the global frontier in the deployment of CSP.

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