The floating solar segment has attracted the interest of the renewable energy industry, particularly in view of the land acquisition challenges. Further, higher generation, lower operations and maintenance (O&M) costs, and reduced water evaporation are driving the uptake of floating solar plants. In an interview with Renewable Watch, Deepak Ushadevi, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Ciel & Terre India, talks about technology in the Indian context, its cost economics, deployment challenges and key growth drivers. Edited excerpts…
What are the various business verticals of the floating solar segment that the company operates in? What is the company’s installed and upcoming capacity globally as well as in India?
Incorporated in 2018, Ciel et Terre India is a subsidiary of Ciel et Terre International, the global pioneer in floating solar. In India, our scope includes:
-Project design and engineering solutions including array layout for the floating plant and the anchoring system.
-Contributing to the Indian government’s “Make in India, Made in India” mission. We are manufacturing our patented Hydrelio® floats in a manufacturing unit in Kerala and other states on a demand basis.
-We also contribute to the supply of our Hydrelio® , anchorage systems, anchorage installation as well as training and supervision of plant installation.
-We started an R&D department in India, outside the current headquarters in France for developing and testing new products to address the need for floating solutions across all markets, including price-sensitive Asian markets.
Ciel et Terre has a global capacity of 1.2 GW in its portfolio, of which 610 MWp has been installed by December 2021 and we are expecting 600 MWp to be completed by the end of 2022. In terms of capacity, we have installed more than 20 MW in India over the past three years, whereas 95 MW is being installed.
What are the key advantages of floating solar in the Indian context?
The Indian subcontinent has a vast potential for floating solar energy given the growing population, needs for energy and land, issues related to land acquisition and disputes, etc. Other conventional renewable energy plants require huge land space, which can be used for something beneficial down the line and they demand removal of trees as well. In addition, the country has several waterbodies that can be used to generate energy and revenue. Our principal objective is to help the world achieve sustainable development goals without harming the existing natural ecosystem. Floating solar has several more environmental, economic and social benefits vis-à-vis any other renewable energy segment.
- Environmental benefits: Floating solar projects minimise water evaporation, improve water quality and reduce algal bloom. In addition, they make solar PV installation possible when there is a lack of space, thus saving land and deforestation.
- Economic benefits: Such projects convert unused spaces into profitable business avenues, enhance electricity generation due to the cooling effect, and reduce gridconnection costs and major infrastructure investments.
- Social benefits: It also preserves valuable land for other uses and rehabilitates contaminated areas with clean energy. In addition, it is compatible with recreational activities, provides environmental amenities and has positive aesthetics.
In sum, floating solar PV projects are land-neutral, reduce water evaporation, get higher gains in energy production due to lower temperature coefficients, less soiling losses, lower O&M expenses, ease of implementation, and hybrid power generation with hydel power systems. Going forward, India will be the largest floating solar market in the world. We are therefore investing in new assets to supply our latest large-scale designs. We believe the floating solution will be a key enabler for the solar PV sector. It is true that floating solar is the third pillar of India’s renewable energy sector.
Which are the most popular float technologies in use today?
Our patented Hydrelio® technology is among the most powerful in the market today, all thanks to intensive R&D for over a decade in the technological field. Over the last five years, more than Euro 70 million has been invested in R&D and we have eight patents registered for Hydrelio®. It has many features including scalability, popularity in the world, proven solutions, local manufacturing options and possibilities, lower cost, and a decade-old, matured concept. We introduced the modular “ONE float per Module” concept in this domain and unfortunately now many are replicating our patented model. Many other technologies including metal structures, hybrid combinations, pipes and membrane types are available in the market that are not proven like Hydrelio®.
How do the capital and operating costs of floating solar compare with the costs of ground-mounted and rooftop projects?
We are reducing the delta difference in the capital expenditure between floating solar and conventional solar to less than 8 per cent. Further, floating solar produces more energy due to the lower temperature around them. The capacity increase of floating PV plants can significantly decrease the levellised cost of energy. This may vary depending on the complexities of the project site and conditions. However, you need to consider extra energy generation due to the cooling effect of the water on the panels. Although in demo trials we see more than 10 per cent extra generation, we could conservatively say that there is a 5-7 per cent extra generation depending on the irradiation, wind, temperature of the water, size and depth of the waterbodies, etc. This extra output could offset the delta difference in capital costs. In terms of commercials, installing a floating solar plant is indeed higher than a utility-scale solar. But consider that floating solar projects save terrestrial space. Coming to O&M, the cost is less than the O&M cost of ground-mounted/rooftop solar projects, as there is less soiling on the panels and there is water available around the arrays that can be utilised for cleaning. Therefore, conventional brush cleaning would reduce the O&M expenses. During engineering design suite creation, moisture prevention of electrical equipment is important. All equipment we use is water-resistant and friendly with a moisture environment.
What are the key challenges in executing a floating solar project?
The primary challenge is that floating solar projects must be sustainable for 25 years. Unlike ground-mounted projects, floating solar must keep the fundamental techniques intact. Each site should have unique designs depending on the topography of the area. The variation in the water level and the undercurrent of the water also poses challenges, especially when it comes to anchoring and moving the floating platforms. Site visits before design and site surveys to undertake bathymetry, SPT, wind speed and wave analysis should be considered while making a design suite. Quality is paramount to protect the asset for 25 years at least. Ciel et Terre collaborates with many leading companies for ensuring wind resistance, wave and current resistance, mechanical resistance, floatability, UV resistance, drinking water compliance, temperature resistance, etc. Ciel et Terre certifications are received from accredited laboratories, such as ONERA French Aero Space, ARMINES Europe Research, Valuetec, Centre for Innovation & Technologies, France. We also have a collaboration with Principia, a leading offshore player, to implement and integrate wind and wave design with cost-effective solutions. The company’s solutions are verified by Bureau Veritas for floating structure standards, compliance and good engineering practices.
How has India’s floating solar market evolved in the past few years?
Over the past couple of years, floating solar has been gaining good traction. Manufacturing industries with available waterbodies are taking advantage of the solution by installing floating solar plants to meet their energy needs and reduce their carbon footprint. Ciel et Terre has been distributing its solutions and developing floating PV plants for commercial, industrial and local government institutions since 2011. Recently, West Bengal Power Development Corporation Limited (WBPDCL) has installed a 5.4 MW floating solar plant on its raw water pond at the Sagardighi thermal power plant. This is the first floating solar plant at a thermal power plant. WBPDCL has also floated tenders for over 20 MW of floating solar projects. Such captive projects will benefit the industry with competitive prices and we can replicate such projects in other industries such as steel, thermal, fertilisers, cement and chemicals. This model looks promising and interesting to many industries and investors. While the government has set an ambitious target of 10 GW of floating solar installation by 2022, we should be able to reach 1 GW by 2023.
What are the key steps needed to drive this segment forward?
From the government support perspective, we look forward to a more stable policy regime from both the central and state governments, with clearly defined and disbursed incentives for renewable energy. The states need to ensure that developers are not troubled each time there is a change in government. The central government needs to act as a guarantor for all power projects that are underwritten with the state discoms. This will ensure that even if the state defaults, the central government can step in. In addition, there is a need to consider renewable energy lending as a separate book and not to club it with overall energy sector exposure (as a significant part of lending by banks/NBFCs is for thermal/hydro and non-renewable energy-based companies). While selecting the floating technology, these aspects should be looked for – proven and quality-driven solutions, and good international standards.