India Plans First Solar Silicon Cell Unit

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    India Plans First Solar Silicon Cell Unit

    NEW DELHI—India plans to invest $480 million to set up its first unit for manufacturing solar silicon cells that will feed a project to build the world's largest solar power plant, Heavy Industries Minister Praful Patel said Wednesday.

    "Today, not a single silicon chip for solar energy is manufactured in India," Mr. Patel told reporters on the sidelines of a signing ceremony to formalize a joint venture company between six state-run companies to build a $4.5 billion-4,000 megawatts plant.

    "Every solar panel which is made in India is assembled while all the material comes from China, Europe and some other countries," Mr. Patel told reporters on the sidelines of a conference.

    A silicon cell or commonly known as solar cell comprise polysilicon and wafers that converts solar energy into electricity.

    Mr. Patel said the ministry of heavy industries will seek financial support from the government for partly funding the first phase of the manufacturing unit that is proposed to be built by state-run Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. 500103.BY -0.47% , one of India's largest engineering company by sales.

    Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. is one of the six consortium partners that will build the first phase of the project expected to be finished in three years. Each of its four phases of construction, over a seven-year period, will cost about $1.1 billion and will add 1,000 megawatts of capacity.

    India's cabinet is expected to formally approve the solar power project soon, Farooq Abdullah, Minister for New and Renewable Energy, told The Wall Street Journal.

    Another senior government official, who didn't want to be identified, said the decision is expected next month.

    Currently, some private Indian companies assemble silicon cells after importing key components, mainly from China. These account for between 15% to 20% of the total requirement.

    Indian industry has been lobbying with the government to encourage use of more locally-made solar power equipment, which has struggled to compete with cheaper imports from China.

    In the last two years, the government has mandated that solar power producers buy a small portion of the equipment for certain projects from local companies.

    The south Asian nation is working on a program to raise its solar power capacity to 20 gigawatts by 2022 from around 2.2 gigawatts now under a federal solar program which was launched three years ago.

    "We have such an ambitious program to have thousands of megawatts of power from solar in next 15-20 years," said Mr. Patel. There is just no other alternative but to manufacture the basic raw material ourselves to keep costs down, he added.

    The government is targeting solar power to generate about 5% of its power mix in next eight years from less than 1% today and help the country to lower dependence on fossil fuel. India meets three-fourth of its energy needs from imports.

    India Plans First Solar Silicon Cell Unit - WSJ.com
     
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