Floating Solar Plants Aiding India's Target of Achieving 227 GW Solar Power by 2022
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In recent years, there has been a major focus on utilising Renewable energy to help power our future. The turning point, in these efforts, was the Government’s ambitious target of achieving 227 GW of solar power by 2022. This brought solar power to the forefront as a viable alternative to our current dependence on fossil fuels.
While it is a well-known fact that out of the 510 million Km2 surface area of earth, a mere (appx.) 29% is covered by land, a solar power plant requires adequate space for installation. Additionally, at certain locations, the land, despite being suitable for it, may not be feasible to build a solar power plant on. Furthermore, in a country where cities are dense and agricultural land is limited, installing solar power plants is quite a challenging task.
This is where floating PV power plants can come to our rescue. As the name suggests, these are bodies of water with floating solar PV plants on them, which can help us capitalise the expansive water bodies that India is home to. The concept of floating PV is not new to the world, though. There are various countries in the world which have already installed floating PV plants. In India, it is estimated that 300 GW of floating PV power plant could be set up by utilising around 10 to 15% of water bodies in states like Kerala, Assam, Odisha, and West Bengal, among others. This could help transform India into a renewable energy rich state. In addition to that, with the government focusing more on solar wind hybrid power plants, floating PV could come to the rescue of land-deficit or water body rich states, such as Kerala. Realising the potential of floating PV, various state governments have been working on formulating policies for the installation of such plants. One of the prime examples, besides being the most discussed one in India, is the floating PV plant commissioned in 2016 at Wayanad, Kerala. Standing at a capacity of 500 kWp, this floating plant can withstand variations in water level of up to 21 meters, between summer and monsoon.
As floating PV is a relatively younger technology, awareness about it is still at a nascent stage, as is its adaption. However, it enjoys significant advantages over ground or roof mounted solar systems.
Increased output from system: Various studies have confirmed that there has been an increase in energy generation from floating PV plants, which can be attributed to the reduced operating temperature of solar modules, resulting from the natural cooling effect of water. Additionally, these systems, if installed on huge water bodies, may have less settled dust on them, resulting in increased energy output from the plants. In fact, using such systems, an overall increase in energy output of around 10% to 12% may be realised.
Savings of water: Installing floating PV plant reduces the water loss usually seen due to evaporation. Additionally, cleaning a typical solar power plant requires huge amounts of water. A cleaning cycle in power plants may occur more than once a week, and CEEW estimates that around 7,000 - 20,000 litres of water per MW is required in the cleaning of regular power plants. By using the floating PV system, such large quantities of water can be conserved. In addition to that, the water utilised for cleaning floating PV systems can be reused as well, since it goes back into the water bodies.
Alternate source of energy at Dams: Dam based reservoirs can utilise their water bodies to install floating PV systems, which may help boost the usage of solar energy during the day time. The water that is saved can then be used at night to generate more power, considerably reducing dependence on plants that use fossil fuel. Additionally, in 2016, the Ministry of Power had already indicated in its draft of the National Tariff Plan, that it may implement Renewable Generation Obligation (RGO), in the near future. While the policy is still in the drafting state, utilising floating PV systems may prove highly effective in helping fulfill the generators’ RGO.
One concern, however, for such plants, is the associated costs involved. While it is land neutral, the anchoring, underwater cabling, the floating structure (the pontoon), and maintenance, adds significantly to the cost of the system, when compared to land based power plants. However, with advancements in technology, growth in local pontoon manufacturing, and more favourable policies, we may see a fall in the cost of such systems considerably, in the near future. This would lead to a substantial capacity addition of floating PV plants in the country’s renewable energy landscape, and we believe that around 10~12 GW of power could be generated from floating PV plants.