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. India's first commercial solar power plant

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
New Delhi (UPI) Dec 16, 2009
India inaugurated Azure Power's 2-megawatt photovoltaic plant in the state of Punjab, the first privately owned, utility-scale power plant on the Asian subcontinent.

Built under a 30-year power purchase agreement with the Punjab State Electricity Board, the plant will help power 4,000 rural homes for 20,000 people.

Farooq Abdullah, minister of new and renewable energy, said the plant showcases India's pledge to generate 20,000 megawatts from solar power by 2022 under the country's national solar mission.

Azure Power is India's first independent power producer in solar energy. It built the plant, situated on 13 acres of farmland in the village of Awan, in a record six months,

Inderpreet Wadhwa founded Azure Power two years ago after a 15-year career in the United States that most recently included software giant Oracle Corp. The 37-year-old native of Amritsar city in Punjab said he wanted to return home and do something for rural areas in India, where millions of people don't have reliable electricity.

Azure Power received initial venture-capital funding from Helion Ventures and Foundation Capital.

Wadhwa encountered a number of bureaucratic hurdles in the project, including obtaining signatures from 152 local officials in Punjab, The Wall Street Journal reports. And he ended up paying more than double the market rate for the land, about $420 per acre a year.

Yet Wadhwa is pressing on. His company has also inked agreements with local Indian governments of Gujarat and Harayana to build facilities that can produce a total of 22 megawatts. It is also coordinating with the state governments of Karnataka, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Rajasthan for another 30 megawatts.

"My aim is to be a leading solar power generator in India by offering viable and socially responsible alternatives to conventional sources of energy," he told the India Business Standard.

About 8 percent of India's energy comes from renewable sources such as wind and hydropower. Solar power, experts say, has great potential because it can work almost anywhere in India.

But growth in the sector has been hampered somewhat by the high costs of the technology and inability of power companies to obtain sizeable tracts of land for the solar panels.

To encourage more investment in the solar sector, the Indian government is increasing subsidies for solar projects and mandating that state utilities purchase solar power. But some experts say government support won't help as long as solar technology remains expensive.

"To achieve scale, you'll need private participation, and that will only happen if the projects are viable without significant state support," Jai Mavani, head of infrastructure and government consulting at KPMG India, told The Wall Street Journal.

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