One of India’s leading IT companies, Infosys has an obligation to meet a certain proportion of its power needs through renewable energy sources, as per the electricity regulations. But the company is many steps ahead. It is planning to meet its entire power demand by setting up solar power projects while also optimising energy consumption. Infosys aims to become carbon-neutral by end-2018 and is almost half-way towards achieving its target.
A 60-member green initiative team, called the Green Brigade, is responsible for researching and devising new strategies to adopt renewables at Infosys. The team has been able to optimise energy consumption to a large extent. Since the number of employees at Infosys has doubled since 2008 (to about 0.2 million as of end-2016), energy consumption has also gone up by 18 per cent. In 2008, the per-employee energy consumption was 297 kWh; this has come down to about 151 kWh as of end-2016. However, the company now aims to bring it down to 90 kWh, the level at which its Hyderabad campus, comprising 16,000 employees, operates.
A major initiative taken by the company in this space has been its solar drive. Infosys has set up 14 solar plants across the country with varying capacities. The biggest solar power facility, with 7,154 kWh of capacity, has been set up by Infosys at the Hyderabad special economic zone (SEZ) campus to generate about 12 million kWh of energy per annum. In addition, there is a 1,333 kWp Chennai MCITY project and the smallest project of 127 kWp at Thiruvananthapuram.
Overall, the company has 15 MW of projects, of which 14 MW has already been installed as a combination of rooftop and ground-mounted systems. These projects are largely used for captive consumption.
Ensuring high performance
Infosys has made some serious efforts towards solar power development. These can be gauged from the company’s initiatives in terms of designing various projects, choice of technology, and operations and maintenance practices.
The company’s current solar portfolio is a combination of different technologies. Of the total installations, 37 per cent of the projects are thin-film based, 27 per cent are polysilicon based, 15 per cent are mono or polycrystalline based with back contact, 14 per cent are heterojunction with intrinsic thin layer (HIT) based and 7 per cent are monocrystalline based. The current performance analysis by Infosys claims thin-film as the most effective technology for solar generation due to its higher potential of capturing diffused sunlight and longer operational hours.
Although the efficiency of modules is important, the orientation of panels decides exposure to sunlight. In this regard, the Green Brigade team has installed a combination of east-west and south-orientation-based designs depending on the location of the plant. The key examples are the company’s solar plants at the Pune and Chennai campuses. The strategic east-west orientation has increased the installed capacity by 20-30 per cent at the sites, thereby increasing the energy generated per unit area. Although such installations are more expensive as compared to the conventional south-facing set-up, they generate more energy during peak hours, which is the main focus for Infosys. Moreover, the generation is fairly distributed over the day, increasing the energy captured to meet the energy demands of the company.
Infosys is constrained by the limited rooftop area, motivating it to experiment with a reduced tilt in the mounting structure design rather than the conventional latitudinal tilt. This helps add 20-30 per cent more capacity at the plant site, which in turn helps generate 15-20 per cent extra power in the given area. Further, Infosys has used tracking devices to enhance the plant’s performance. On an average, tracking devices have improved the performance by 16 per cent and 21 per cent for crystalline and thin-film solar modules respectively. This has entailed an additional cost of 20-25 per cent.
Another aspect of performance improvement is plant monitoring on a real-time basis, which has been a major part of the company’s project portfolio. Some well-known companies such as AlsoEnergy and Mission Pulse have collaborated with Infosys to help monitor the projects at three different levels – plant, string and module. It is imperative for the company to reduce degeneration due to technical faults and natural factors like dust accumulation, ohmic loss reduction and module mismatch loss reduction. The plant’s success depends on quick corrective measures related to module failure.
Meanwhile, there has been special emphasis on design depending on the project’s location. If the place is prone to cyclones and strong winds, as was the case with the company’s plant in Chennai, Infosys has used the aerodynamic structure to protect the plant from any unforeseen damages.
Project development challenges
The key challenges associated with the development of the solar system project at Infosys are related to the characteristics of the roof. Infosys buildings have a certain composition of reinforced cement concrete and thus, structural stability had to be kept in mind during installation.
The maintenance of the project is a major challenge to the solar power system, especially in the case of rooftop installations. These need to have enough space for panels to be cleaned and periodic health check-ups need to be carried out by the engineering, procurement and construction partners. This adds to the cost of the entire project.
A key area of concern is the fire risk due to the overheating of solar photovoltaic cells, which needs to be addressed by the company. Apart from this, there are problems such as diverting power load on the weekends when the in-house energy requirement is low.
Infosys has been making progress towards meeting its green targets through research and development in the solar rooftop space. It has built successful affiliations with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the International Solar Energy Society and the Institute of Electricals and Electronics. The company’s plans revolve around advancements in new technologies and its experience with existing projects. In order to resolve the issue of managing weekend load, the company is now looking at setting up grid-connected capacity. It has three projects in the pipeline – a 3 MW solar rooftop project in the Hyderabad SEZ, a 40 MW project in Karnataka and a 1 MW rooftop project in Jaipur under the state’s net metering policy.
Infosys has set an example for other corporate entities to deploy green solutions not just to meet the government mandate but also because it is a commercially viable proposition.