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Can India Drive, Even Save, the Solar Products Industry?

Struggles among United States-based manufacturers of solar power-related products have been well documented as at least one significant company in the industry has filed for bankruptcy protection just about every month since last fall amid stiff competition and wavering domestic consumer demand. And, now, news out of Germany looks grim as the Frankfurt-based First Solar announced it would shutter a domestic plant and “idle” four production lines in Malaysia amid the acknowledging that “the European market has deteriorated to the extent that our operations there are no longer economically sustainable.”

However, India clearly is pressing on with its alternative/renewable energy generation platform as a nation, and solar energy appears to be a big part of that. Demand for solar products developed largely in the U.S., Germany, China as well as other smaller Asian nations has skyrocketed in recent months as India struggles to tries to keep up with energy resource needs imposed upon by its surging population and development. To wit, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission aims to expand the solar capacity within the country to 20,000 megawatts by the end of this decade, which would translate into generation of 7% of all energy used within India coming via solar means.

The latest high-profile Indian solar project, dubbed the “Rajasthan Sun Technique Energy Private Limited” has brought the Indian government and developers together with Reliance Power, a U.S. subsidiary with French ownership, as well as institutional investments from Far East Asia and Holland. Despite its reauthorization beyond this year becoming a political football in the U.S. Congress, the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. approved an $80 million loan this week to facilitate the purchase of products for the project from manufacturing outfits based in eight U.S. states and the District of Columbia. It is the seventh loan venture involving Ex-Im on an India-based solar project.

Brian Shappell, CBA, NACM staff writer