NEW YORK — SunEdison Inc. will invest $4 billion to build the biggest solar panel factory in India, advancing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s effort to rein in pollution by expanding renewable energy.
The manufacturer based in Maryland Heights, Missouri, will form a venture with the Indian power provider Adani Enterprises Ltd. to build the photovoltaic plant, with as much as 7.5 gigawatts of annual production capacity. Construction is expected to begin this year, the company said in a statement today.
With some of the quickest-growing carbon dioxide emissions in the developing world, India is under pressure to join in the international fight against global warming. Modi will meet President Barack Obama in New Delhi next week where the two are expected to discuss climate issues following last year’s pact between the U.S. and China to coordinate pollution cuts.
“The prime minister has been revising upwards India’s aspirations for solar,” said Pashupathy Shankar Gopalan, SunEdison’s managing director for South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The factory “very nicely plays into the aspirations for the country to grow solar significantly, as well as wanting to create stronger domestic manufacturing.”
Modi has been ratcheting up India’s targets for renewable energy in a bid to lower coal use and bring electricity to the poor. The government set a target in November for as much as 100 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2022, five times the previous goal.
India is the third-largest source of carbon emissions behind the U.S. and China. In December, the government in New Delhi said it could spend at least $100 billion on climate-related projects.
The targets have made India a fast-growing market for photovoltaics. Demand for solar power in the country this year may triple to more than 3.2 gigawatts, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The London-based researcher expects as much as 63.6 gigawatts to be installed worldwide.
Solar remains a small part of India’s energy supply, accounting for 1 percent of power generation capacity and less than that for delivered electricity, according to the International Energy Agency. Coal supplies 45 percent of India’s energy and about 60 percent of its electricity.
Under existing energy policies, carbon dioxide emissions in India will jump 34 percent by 2020 and double by 2030, according to the IEA.
The new plant in Mundra, Gujarat, will incorporate all stages of solar manufacturing, from polysilicon to cells and panels. Construction will take about three years and it will create about 20,000 jobs.
“Solar will be a very important part of the country’s energy mix,” Gopalan said. “The cost of solar has become so competitive that it’s our belief the facility we’re building will be able to compete head to head with fossil-powered energy in India.”
SunEdison shares climbed almost 50 percent in 2014, the most among the Bloomberg Intelligence Global Large Solar Energy index of 21 companies.
Lead image: Solar panels via Shutterstock