Floating Solar Plants Gain Momentum in India

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There’s a new trend on the solar energy harnessing front in India.

Like in China and a few of the Southeast Asian nations, India is seeing a spurt in what are called “floating solar plants.”

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In late 2017, the country inaugurated its largest such floating plant, a 500 kw (kilowatt peak) by the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB). This one floats on 1.25 acres of water surface of a reservoir, and has 1,938 solar panels, which have been installed on 18 ferro cement floaters with hollow insides. The project uses high-efficiency solar panels and a floating substation has been set up on the reservoir itself to convert the output into 11 kV.

While the concept of floating solar plants in India is old — it was first mooted by Tata Power way back in 2011 – they caught the fancy of energy developers only now. The Tata plant is on the backwaters of a dam located close to Tata’s hydro-electricity plant.

A second pilot project was started on the banks of the Sabarmati river in the province of Gujarat in 2012. It was awarded to SunEdison at a cost of about U.S. $2.7 million. The pilot project was developed by Gujarat State Electricity Corporation (GSECL) with support from Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd. (SSNNL).

But it’s only in the last few months that the activity has picked up. The government has floated eight floating solar power projects of capacities ranging between 2 MW to 1,000 MW.

The floating plants tie in with the Indian Government’s overall, rather ambitious, renewable energy plan.

India and China are both leading in this race. In 2017, Asia accounted for nearly two-thirds of the worldwide increase in renewable energy generating capacity, according to a report published in April by the International Renewable Energy Agency. Renewable energy capacity has nearly doubled over the past five years, reaching 918GW in 2017.

According to media reports, renewable energy firm Avaada Power is now in talks with various provincial governments in India to set up floating solar projects.

The company wants to increase its installed solar capacity to 5,000 megawatts (MW) in the next four years, from 1,000 MW at present, and a major chunk will come from solar energy. The floating solar segment has a potential to generate 300 gigawatts (GW) of power across the country.

Many provincial governments are also expected to call for tenders in this space soon. Also, India’s National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) has announced its plans to set up 600 MW of floating solar capacity at the 1,960-MW Koyna hydel power project in the State of Maharashtra.

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Experts are optimistic that with India’s large network of water bodies, this trend of floating solar plants will become the norm soon, though care has to be taken while setting them up so that they do not affect marine life.

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