As most renewable energy projects, especially solar projects, are land intensive, floating solar is emerging as an efficient alternative. According to an article titled “Renewable Energy and Land Use in India: A Vision to Facilitate Sustainable Development” by the Centre for Science Technology and Policy and the Nature Conservancy, India would require land equal to the area of Himachal Pradesh or Chhattisgarh to meet its 2022 renewable energy target. The calculated area is in the range of 55,000-125,000 sq. km. The article also calculates that to meet the earlier 2030 target of 300 GW of solar and 140 GW of wind capacity, 165,000-375,000 sq. km of land area would be needed. This is more than the land area of Rajasthan.
While these numbers have been debated, with some industry experts saying that a smaller land area would be needed, the larger point remains that there is a need for an alternative like floating solar for sustainable renewable energy development and economical use of land. At COP26, the Indian prime minister announced the target of installing 500 GW of non-fossil fuel energy capacity by 2030, which will not be met if alternatives like floating solar are not fully utilised.
There is a strong case for promoting floating solar projects. Apart from no land use, such projects are expected to generate more electricity due to the cooling effect of waterbodies, and avoid the evaporation of water. This will be an advantage, especially in arid and semi-arid regions as well as in regions facing water scarcity or decreasing water tables. In addition, if such projects are set up on hydropower dams or reservoirs of thermal power plants, they will resolve the issue of inadequate utilisation of transmission infrastructure.
Despite these positives, there are several challenges in such projects such as the high cost of construction and faster degradation of panels. That said, the segment is essential for meeting the solar targets and compensating for the low rooftop solar capacity vis-à-vis the 40 GW target.
Renewable Watch presents an overview of the developments that have taken place in the floating solar space across states over the past year…
Recently, in January 2022, National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) Limited signed an agreement with Green Energy Development Corporation of Odisha Limited (GEDCOL) to form a joint venture (JV) for setting up 500 MW of floating solar power projects in Odisha. The equity shareholding of NHPC and GEDCOL in the proposed JV will be 74:26. In the first stage, 300 MW of floating solar capacity will be installed in the Rengali hydroelectric project’s reservoir. The project will be carried out as part of the Solar Park Scheme. The first stage of the project will have an outlay exceeding Rs 20 billion and is expected to generate approximately 600 MUs of energy per year. Earlier, in August 2021, NHPC Limited issued a tender for the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) of a 100 MW floating solar PV project in Odisha.
In December 2021, West Bengal Power Development Corporation Limited (WBPDCL) issued a request for proposals (RfP) for the installation of 22.5 MW of grid-connected floating solar projects at the Bakreshwar (10 MW), Santaldih (7.5 MW) and Sagardighi (5 MW) thermal power plants. In the same month, the Steel Authority of India issued an RfP for a turnkey 4 MW floating solar project at its IISCO steel plant in Paschim Bardhaman district.
In June 2021, Ciel & Terre India commissioned a 5.4 MWp floating solar project at the Sagardighi thermal power plant. The project is owned by WBPDCL and BHEL was the EPC partner. The project is in a thermal power plant reservoir and is spread over an area of 10.22 hectares.
WBPDCL floated a tender for developing a 5 MW grid-connected floating solar power project at the Santaldih thermal power station, Purulia, in February 2021. The project is estimated to cost Rs 348.4 million. In the same month, WBPDCL reissued a tender to develop 10 MW of grid-connected floating solar plants on ponds at the Sagardighi thermal power project in Murshidabad. The estimated cost of the project is Rs 600.2 million.
In November 2021, Kerala State Electricity Board Limited issued a request for qualification to set up 100 MW of grid-connected floating solar projects on a design-build-own-operate model.
In October 2021, Singareni Collieries Company Limited floated a consultancy tender for a 250 MW (DC) floating solar project at the Lower Manair Dam, Karimnagar. In the same month, NTPC Limited commissioned the first part capacity of 17.5 MW of the planned 100 MW floating solar projects at Ramagundam.
In September 2021, BHEL completed a 25 MW floating solar PV project at NTPC Limited’s site in Simhadri. The plant can withstand wind speeds of up to 180 km per hour. All the platform structures and other equipment have been made corrosion-resistant due to their proximity to the coast. In the same month, BHEL floated a tender for the operations and maintenance of the 25 MW floating solar PV power project for a period of 36 months.
Rewa Ultra Mega Solar Limited (RUMSL) invited bids to develop a 600 MW floating solar park at the Omkareshwar reservoir. In August 2021, RUMSL had issued a tender for the environmental and social impact assessment of the project.
In June 2021, Ciel & Terre India completed plant engineering, float supply and supervision of the 14.7 MWp floating solar project at the water storage pond of Southern Petrochemical Industries Corporation Limited, in Thoothukudi. The company plans to execute a 75 MWp floating solar project in the state.
In January 2021, the Ministry of Defence invited EoIs for the development of a combined ground-mounted and grid-connected floating solar project on a turnkey basis at the Cordite Factory in Aruvankadu, Tamil Nadu. About 4,200 square metres of land and 11,700 square metres of lake area have been allotted for the solar capacity.
In February 2021, Tumakuru Smart City Limited invited bids for the development of a 20 MW floating solar power project at the Bugudanahalli reservoir.
In January 2021, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) approved a hybrid floating solar-hydro power project on the Middle Vaitarna dam, becoming India’s first civic body to develop such a project. MCGM also decided to form a JV between Shapoorji Pallonji & Company and Mahalaxmi Konal Urja. The hydroelectric and floating solar projects will have a capacity of 20 MW and 80 MW respectively. The power will be purchased at a set tariff of Rs 4.75 per kWh for 25 years. The project will generate 208 MUs of electricity, which could potentially help MCGM save Rs 240 million in power bills.
The Solar Energy Corporation of India invited EoIs from banks to extend a term loan of Rs 4 billion with a 15-year tenor to develop two 100 MW solar PV projects. Of this, one is a 100 MW floating solar PV project, to be developed on the Getalsud reservoir, Ranchi. The cost of the project is estimated at Rs 5.83 billion. It is to be financed with 80 per cent debt and 20 per cent equity. Of the debt, the World Bank will provide a loan of Rs 2.44 billion, and domestic commercial borrowings are expected to be Rs 1.464 billion. For this project, the upper ceiling of the tariff will be Rs 3.50 per kWh.
The way forward
Going forward, India must make a long-term plan to develop a renewable energy mix based on the social cost of the different technologies. That is, policymakers must not focus only on technologies that are perceived to have the lowest cost but a higher social cost in reality. In the solar space, the major social costs are need for a large area of land, water for cleaning, waste management of solar modules, etc. To avoid the social cost related to land and water needs the development of more floating solar projects is necessary.
Also, policymakers should take advantage of the supply chain uncertainties created by the pandemic and plan to make India a global manufacturing hub for floats and other key equipment used in floating solar projects.
By Sarthak Takyar