The Economic Times: June, 2014
Kolkata: The city-based Renewable Energy College has bagged the contract for imparting the technical know-how for setting up a 50-mw floating solar power plant for NHPC in Kerala. This will be the world's first large floating solar power plant.
"There are large stretches of water bodies in Kerala which NHPC wants to harness for solar power. This floating solar power technology was developed by the Renewable Energy College and has been implemented in the city. The first plant — a pilot project — is scheduled to be commissioned in October this year. NHPC had contacted us for offering technical know-how and installation assistance for their proposed 50-mw plant," said SP Gon Choudhury, chairman of the Renewable Energy College.
"Estimated to cost between Rs 350 crore and Rs 400 crore, the College will assist in sourcing material till commissioning of the plant."
A system of generating electricity from floating panels has been developed by the College sometime last year. With large water bodies available in eastern and south-eastern parts of the country in states like West Bengal, Assam, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and South India, the technology leads to considerable savings on land prices and brings down power generation expenses, reducing the gap between thermal and solar power.
It is also expected to offer greater generation yield, compared to similar panels installed on land. The first of its kind in India, the project is under execution at a lake in the outskirts of the city.
The project, estimated to cost Rs 35 lakh, has been fully funded by the ministry of new and renewable energy and is expected to generate around 12 kilo watt of power to begin with by October 2014.
"We have also been approached by Chilika Development Authority (CDA) in Orissa and the Kerala Airport Authority for setting up similar facilities there. While the Chilika lake has an area of over 1,100 square km, the Airport in Kerala has a huge water body where such facility can be set up. Such panels could also be installed on water reservoirs of dams."
The technology is fairly simple. Solar panels will be set up on floating platforms which will be anchored firmly so that it does not sway. Scientists in charge of the projects are still working on the ways of securing the platform in case there are strong winds.
Following the government's announcement of setting up 2 lakh mw of solar power generation capacity, prices of barren land earmarked for solar power projects have gone up by at least 20-30 %.
This has been pushing up solar power prices. Water bodies can now offer an alternative solution to this problem. Four acres of land is required to generate 1 mw of solar power at an investment of about Rs 7 crore.
It produces power costing Rs 8 per unit. In contrast, if panels are installed on floating platforms, the area required is likely to be 10-20 % less than 4 acres.
Capital cost for such solar projects will be around Rs 6.5 crore per mw, which will generate power at Rs 7 per unit. It will also qualify for the state and central subsidy that the government provides as part of its solar mission.
The main savings will be on the land price and yield. The surface of the water body can be rented out by the owner and the rent will be minimal because such water surfaces can be put to no other use. In contrast, thermal power plants require an investment of Rs 5-6 crore per mw of generation capacity and produces power at Rs 5-6 per unit.
"The ecology of the water body is not likely to be affected much and it will also reduce evaporation, thus helping preserve water levels during extreme summer. Solar panels installed on land, face reduction of yield as the ground heats up. When such panels are installed on a floating platform, the heating problem is solved to a great extent," said Choudhury.