Softbank’s US$20 billion solar investment ‘game changer’ for India

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The US$20 billion investment in renewable energy in India by Japanese telecoms provider-turned solar developer Softbank is a “game changer” for India’s solar ambitions, according to a prominent industry figure.

Softbank is a large, professional, entrepreneurial and external player, which is “putting [its] faith” into the Indian market, Tobias Engelmeier, the founder of consultancy firm Bridge to India told PV Tech.

Engelmeier highlighted that the company would not just build solar plants, but would also provide complete integrated power solutions at scale, including infrastructure to cover all the well-known challenges of India’s market, such as evacuation routes and bottlenecks.

He added: “This is one of the most optimistic signs so far. They have the money that others don’t have, so they come in with huge funds from the outside, which is a kind of trust, and they want to provide solutions to India – so that changes the game.”

Softbank entered the clean energy market after the Fukushima accident and has been working on projects across Asia.

Yesterday the firm announced the formation of a joint venture to be named SBG Cleantech, with Taiwan-based manufacturing services provider Foxconn Technology Group and Indian business conglomerate Bharti Enterprises. SoftBank chairman Masayoshi Son also met Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, power minister Piyush Goyal and minister of state for finance, Jayant Sinha.

SBG Cleantech plans to help India reach its 100GW solar by 2022 target from its current 4GW level, and close up the country’s power deficit.

Engelmeier said the three main “game changers”, would be: Softbank’s ability to provide firm power for customers and utilities; the large scale of its investment; and the “huge sign of trust” put in India by a major, innovative international company looking to build a “real utility business” in India.

Going by Softbank’s previous investment in huge wind parks and the related infrastructure in China, Engelmeier forecast that the firm will focus on India's grid, wind, solar and possibly even storage solutions.

He added: “This is the best news since [India] announced their [solar] targets; the market responds at scale to the new government’s targets and ambitions.”

A Softbank statement said: “Given its vast population, high irradiation, growing energy demand and power deficit, limited access to fossil fuels and a large number of unlit villages, India has great potential to be a major solar market.”

Masayoshi Son said: “Our eyes are trained on India, given the vast potential that the country offers. We have already made considerable investments in the technology sector here. With this partnership, our goal is to create a market-leading ‎clean energy company, to fuel India's growth with clean and renewable sources of energy.”

Bharti veteran Manoj Kohli will be executive chairman of SGB Cleantech and Raman Nanda the chief executive. The company will be headquartered in Delhi.

In another major investment in January, SunEdison and Adani Enterprises announced plans to invest up to $4 billion in a solar panel manufacturing facility in India.

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