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LibraryimgBlogimgClean Energy Financing in India: Opportunities, Challenges, and the Role of AIFs (PART I)

Clean Energy Financing in India: Opportunities, Challenges, and the Role of AIFs (PART I)

  • October 13, 2022
  • By vivriti

The global oil crisis in the 1970s and 1980s led to the genesis of renewable energy (RE) development in India similar to other parts of the world where research into alternative energy technologies such as wind turbines, solar panels, etc. began during the same time. The shortage in oil supply caused its prices to skyrocket from ~US$3/barrel in 1972 to ~US$35/barrel in 1980. Supply-related uncertainties and the adverse impact on the balance of payments due to drastic price increases led India to establish the Commission for Additional Sources of Energy (CASE) in the Department of Science & Technology in March 1981. In 1982, India created the Department of Non-conventional Energy Sources (DNES), that incorporated CASE. A decade later, India became one of the first countries to set up a Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Resources (by converting DNES), which was rechristened in 2006 as the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE).

Amid the decades-long dependence on conventional sources of energy (mainly coal), the contribution of renewable sources to the overall energy mix in India started increasing at a fast pace in the last decade as depicted in the below charts. Thanks to various state and central incentives due to the increasing focus on reduction in CO2 emissions and concerns for global warming.

If we consider the energy mix within the renewable sector (by generation) this is how it looks

Back in 2014, the government of India set a target to achieve an RE capacity of 175 GW in India (excluding large hydro projects), which would include 100 GW of solar energy, 60 GW of wind energy, and 15 GW via small hydro projects, biomass projects and other renewable technologies by Dec 2022. Till Jun 2022, ~114 GW of RE capacity has been installed in India, as per information provided by MNRE to the Parliament. The remaining targeted capacity of ~61 GW is under various stages of implementation.

Under the Paris Agreement goal, the government of India is also committed to generating 50% of installed energy capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030. India has set a long-term goal to reach ‘net zero’ by 2070.

Investment gap

Meeting the transformative goal in RE capacity calls for a significant investment in the sector. As per MNRE, India would need an investment of INR 1.5-2 lakh crore annually for its long-term commitments in the RE space. However, estimated annual investments in the sector in the last few years have been in the range of INR 75,000 crores only, which implies a huge gap between the required and actual investment. But recent trends in RE investment look promising!

Currently, India devotes ~3% of its GDP to investments in energy. Due to the rise in commitments from corporates, banks, and financial institutions to increase non-fossil fuel investments, the share of RE investments has been going up in the overall mix.

Investments in FY21 dipped ~24% due to the fall in energy demand amid the nationwide lockdown. However, as the demand revived, investment jumped 125% from FY21 and ~71% from the pre-pandemic level (FY20) in FY22.

The asymmetry in debt financing

PSUs play a dominant role when it comes to the financing of energy in India. However, a substantial amount of finance from govt-owned financial institutions flows into conventional sources of energy instead of RE. This is because over 50% of conventional power generation capacity is under the direct ownership of central and state governments. Hence, the onus to arrange finance of energy capital and development of RE capacity falls on the private sector.

Some of the biggest private sector players have already embarked on a massive clean energy journey. Reliance Industries has announced a target to reach net-zero carbon by 2035 and is investing over US$10 billion (INR 75,000 crore). Adani Green, the largest renewable company in India by market capitalization and the top project developer in solar and wind, with a portfolio of ~14,000 MW, announced debt financing of over INR 10,000 crores till Mar 2021 for its RE projects. Other key players in the sector include Tata Power (one of the highest revenue earners in the industry) and ReNew Power.

Among the state-run players, NTPC is a notable example of business diversification. The company is following a target of 60 GW of net renewable energy capacity by 2032. Coal India is also considering building capacity for solar wafer manufacturing.

On an overall basis, the clean energy sector still lacks scale and diversified access to financing. Although established companies like Reliance, Adani, and Tata are able to get success in financing being behemoths, other players, which are mainly MSMEs, smaller energy service companies (ESCOs), and other unlisted and lower-rated companies face difficulties in raising finances from capital markets despite having a sound business model or meeting financial benchmarks like the minimum debt-service coverage ratio or DSCR (the ratio of net operating income to current debt obligations) requirements.

However, “small and medium enterprises are going to be crucial to the growth of the RE sector”, said Saurabh Marda, the Managing Director of Hyderabad-based Freyr Energy, which provides rooftop solar solutions for residential and commercial customers. Marda added, “Most of these companies operate on an asset-light model and one of the things holding back their growth is the ability to finance projects. Most traditional lenders ask for collateral that is not feasible beyond a point. Another gap is that most lenders even today do not understand solar as an asset class, especially at the branch level. If this understanding improves and lenders start looking at solar project financing or discounting cash flows from solar customers, the overall financing situation can improve”.

The financing pattern of RE projects is such that 70% of funds are sourced from debt and the rest 30% are mobilized as equity funding. Sadly, the debt servicing costs of renewable energy projects in India are 20%-30% higher than in the US and Europe (calculated on Levelized cost of energy). The banking sector also depicts some level of reluctance while lending to smaller players due to its perceptions of associated risks and uncertainties with RE projects of such players.

When it comes to the financing of greenfield RE projects by banks and NBFCs, the following are the characteristics (IEA, CEEW, Dec 2021) noted in RE loans (the terms vary with the level of the project’s riskiness): —

  • Long-tenure and floating-rate debt with periodic reset clauses
  • A moratorium period of up to one year after the project’s scheduled commissioning date
  • Debt-service reserve account (DSRA), a cash reserve set aside to meet debt-servicing requirements for a period, requirements of typically one to two quarters
  • Minimum DSCR of 1.1

The cost of debt comprises the internal benchmark rates (based on the marginal cost of lending rate for banks and the prime lending rate for NBFCs) and the spreads over them. The spreads component is determined by the creditworthiness of the power offtaker (which are electricity distribution companies or discoms), the type of project site, the creditworthiness of the sponsor, and any additional corporate guarantees. For example, if the project is set up on a solar park site, its borrowing costs become ~25 basis points (bps) lower than the one set up on a non-solar park site. If the developer has signed a PPA with a highly leveraged state discom, it could add up to 50 bps in borrowing costs compared to a PPA signed with a central govt entity or a low-leveraged state discom. The below chart depicts how the cost of debt for developers varies as per the determinants.

In the next post, we will discuss what are the avenues of financing for clean energy projects in India, both domestically and internationally, and how AIFs fit well in mending the financing gap.


The views provided in this blog are the personal views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Vivriti. This article is intended for general information only and does not constitute any legal or other advice or suggestion. This article does not constitute an offer or an invitation to make an offer for any investment.