The Ministry of Power has released a new set of guidelines for tariff-based competitive bidding in grid-connected solar projects. This would be a crucial step towards strengthening India’s solar energy sector. Developers in the sector would welcome these rules, viewing them as a constructive step towards increasing transparency, promoting fair procurement practices, and encouraging competitive pricing.
With active involvement from industry stakeholders, the major goal of this new framework is to support steady growth in solar installations across the country. The standards include a variety of incentives and relaxations designed to increase developer participation, as well as penalties to dissuade project delays and cancellations. They include the following:
The Ministry has made a significant change by reducing the standard PPA tenure from 25 to 20 years. This shift has spurred debate in the industry, concerning how it would affect the financial feasibility and long-term planning of solar projects. Longer-term PPAs are often preferred by investors because they provide greater assurance for investment recovery. However, Shorter PPA terms may result in higher initial tariffs on project bids. Nonetheless, they may incentivize developers to use modern technologies for more effective project execution, resulting in higher returns on investment. Furthermore, the implementation of a 20-year PPA framework has the potential to change the tariff landscape. The option that allows projects to exit after 20 years may appeal to investors who are willing to absorb higher tariffs upfront.
The revised standards require bidders to quote within 2-5% of the lowest tariff (“L1”) bid, which is intended to encourage realistic and sustainable tariff bids. This action is likely to improve auction tariffs and shorten project delays caused by cost overruns. However, the guidelines put a 50% restriction on the capacity that a single bidder can secure in a tender. While this cap can improve market competitiveness and tariff optimization, it may limit economies of scale for larger projects, potentially leading to higher tariffs that distribution firms (“DISCOMs”) are typically unwilling to accept.
Procurers can now acquire excess energy generated above the maximum capacity utilization factor (“CUF”) at the PPA tariff price under the amended criteria. This is a substantial departure from the prior norm, in which extra power could be purchased for only 75% of the PPA cost. This modification allows generators to realize the full value of their surplus energy, removing the prior 25% loss when selling through the procurer.
Projects with capabilities of up to 1,000 MW must now begin power supply within 24 months after signing the PPA. A 30-month deadline has been allowed for projects larger than 1,000 MW. Furthermore, the guidelines include fines for project delays. Projects that are delayed by more than six months from their anticipated completion date will have their contracted capacity reduced, and the PPA for the remaining capacity will be cancelled. Generators that experience delays risk being barred. While penalties are meant to encourage project completion on schedule, developers emphasize the importance of government intervention to overcome policy inconsistencies and infrastructure issues that can cause delays beyond their control.
The new standards’ applicability to all future solar power projects, whether integrated with energy storage technologies or not, represents a substantial extension. The prior rules made no mention of energy storage. The addition of energy storage devices is expected to solve the intermittent nature of solar energy while also assisting distribution firms in meeting their Energy Storage Obligations.
In conclusion, while the new guidelines for tariff-based competitive bidding in grid-connected solar power projects are viewed positively, developers emphasize the importance of a flexible change in law clause that would allow them to effectively manage challenges beyond their control with the assistance of implementing agencies. As India expands its solar energy capacity, these rules will be an important tool in molding the country’s renewable energy sector’s future.