What India can learn from the US in building its solar industry: Financing

What India can learn from the US in building its solar industry: Financing

Mr. Jasmeet Khurana covers projects as a consultant in the Market Intelligence team at BRIDGE TO INDIA.

India is promoting large utility-scale installations in solar to achieve the targets under the National Solar Mission (NSM). Distributed generation, which holds the true potential for Indian conditions, has largely been ignored till now. For distributed solar adoption to flourish in India, a domestic financing ecosystem is required. US has been able to create such a financing ecosystem by developing innovative business models. There is an opportunity for Indian and US companies to collaborate and adapt successful solutions to Indian conditions.

  • Promotion of only large solar power plants in India is hampering the creation of a solar financing eco-system that can help fund a distributed adoption of solar power
  • Business models created for the US solar market can be adapted to Indian conditions
  • Indian banks alone will not be able to drive a large scale adoption of solar
  • It is expected that there will be a large gap in the demand and supply for the financing requirements of solar in India
  • Third-party financiers from the US or other mature markets may enter the market to fill in the gapSolar power plants are financed through debt and equity. The mix varies from 90% debt in for example, Germany to 70% debt in India, depending on the maturity of the market and the comfort of the banks. The equity comes from the project developer. These can be independent power producers (IPPs), smaller developers, utilities or private equity players. India has over 200 project developers that have been allocated FiT based projects under various policies. Smaller project developers have faced challenges in arranging finance and commissioning their projects. The solar policies in India have started favoring larger project sizes for allocation processes. The average project sizes have gone up considerably with batch two of phase one of the NSM and other new state bids like those in Karnataka, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh. This is causing the FiT driven market to shift towards a smaller number of key project developers like Welspun, Mahindra Solar, Kiran energy and Azure Power among some others. With large project pipelines, these project developers are able to raise equity either through their own balance sheets or through private equity backing.

Construction financing and term debt for solar projects in India comes primarily from Indian banks, development funding institutions (DFIs) and international banks (mostly through Export Credit Agencies or ECAs). DFI and ECA financing is available only to projects with capacities greater than 10MW. Indian banks continue to be skeptical towards financing solar projects in general. Almost all financing of solar projects in India continues to be recourse financing.

The phase two of the NSM is expected to come out with even larger project sizes. This trend towards larger projects will help the government achieve the installation targets and lower the cost of solar power. Also, financing these large projects is easier for companies with strong balance sheets.

On the other hand, this restricts the creation of a solar financing ecosystem that can fund a distributed adoption of solar power. As per BRIDGE TO INDIA’s market model, more than 60% of the total 12GW solar installations in India till 2016 will come from non-FiT segments like commercial tariff parity driven projects, RPO/ REC mechanism projects, telecom towers and diesel parity driven projects. This goes to show that the future realization of solar power in India will come from outside the FiT segment and from distributed power generation. Currently, there is no solar financing ecosystem in India that can support this growth. This will cause a large gap between the demand and supply of financing options for solar power in India.

Adopting solar power as a large component of the energy mix is critical to India’s energy security in the years to come. If India has to realize its true solar potential, the financing ecosystem in India needs to be strengthened. Learning from the solar financing ecosystem that is being developed in the US will be the first step in the right direction. US solar financing has been similar to the Indian financing scenario today but it is now evolving to the needs of distributed solar growth. Solutions created in the US solar market for distributed growth can then be adapted to Indian conditions.

Commercial and residential consumers are not keen on locking up their liquidity to meet the upfront costs associated with solar installations. The rise of distributed solar has led to the creation of many new business models in the US. This has led to the creation of new financing entities. They provide small scale financing services to commercial and residential consumers via a lease or PPA. They source financing through large investors like pension funds, mutual funds, insurance funds, sovereign wealth funds, private equity and hedge funds among others. Companies like SolarCity and Sunrun in the US have increased their valuation to over USD 1billion through this model. They are called third-party financiers. Their model also gives investors a diversified opportunity to back solar. In this scenario, the role of connecting the actual investors with these third-party financiers also opens up. Companies referred to as third-party intermediaries like Clean Power finance do this job.

Various models used across the US solar industry include:

Utility scale PPA model

This is the traditional model, as it exists in India. Developer invests equity into a project and a lender provides recourse or non-recourse project debt.

Host-owned model

These are typically small installations by the power consumer. It is similar to the subsidy based model in India. In US they have tax credits and net-metering that makes these projects more viable.

Vertical model

Under the vertical model, an integrated player handles customer leads, installation, engineering, maintenance and financing services via a lease or a PPA. Such firms essentially serve as both installer and third-party financier to the home or business owner that receives generation from the PV system.

Semi-vertical model

In this model, third-party financier does not undertake the installation themselves but pay an installer to do it for them. The PPA/lease is still signed with the third-party financier.

Financial market model

This model brings in various investors of different types to compete with each other. Here an intermediary provides an interface to match large lenders with small borrowers.

The actual models followed by third-party financiers and third-party intermediaries are much more complex than the ones explained above. A whole solar finance marketplace has been created in the US. A third-party financier or an installer can now select from and combine multiple financing sources in a competitive environment.

In India, banks alone will not be able to drive a large scale adoption of solar. With the potential that the Indian solar market possesses, installers, third-party financiers, third-party intermediaries and investors from the US or other mature markets, perhaps in collaboration with some Indian entities, may enter the market to fill in the gap.

References:
Re-imagining US solar financing – US SOLAR – WHITE PAPER – BNEF

This blog has been written by Jasmeet Khurana, Consultant, Market Intelligence

1 comment

  • As one who sold Solar Lanterns, Home & Street lights and small power plants ranging from 2/3 KWp to 50 KWp and later conceived and conceptualised Worlds largest 4000 MW Ultra Mega Solar Power project in Rajasthan, India, I can say with conviction that large plants are a must to catch up the time lost in building up Solar portfolio in India. The protmoters of Solar have long given the impression that Solar is meant for small remote applications only. This has prevented large scale application of solar including sub optimal production facilities. It was to break this mind set that I conceived the First Solar UMPP and pushed for it, despite being laughed at several times, till it was accepted with support of several well meaning and forward looking friends. I strongly support the distributed generation through Solar but believe that big plants have to be pushed with greater emphasis to achieve volumes, reduced costs and even greater penetration of Solar in our energy mix.

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