Thursday, December 1, 2011

Floating Solar Plants to Bridge Energy Deficit?

India is estimated to have over 2,000 natural lakes and more than 65,000 manmade lakes that hold the potential to be platforms to set up floating solar power producing plants.

Indian entrepreneurs are slowly moving into this sphere, using expertise from abroad, with central and several state governments giving subsidies to set up plants to tap the abundant renewable power source.

“There is tremendous potential for floating solar PV (photovoltaic) projects in India. Certain estimates of water bodies in India indicate there are 2,167 natural lakes (wetlands) and 65,253 man-made lakes in India,” Uma Rajarathnam, associate vice president (Clean Energy and Environment Projects) of Bangalore-based Enzen Global Solutions, told IANS in an interview.

Enzen signed a memorandum of understanding with French company Ciel-et-Terre in Bangalore Nov 15 to set up floating solar power plants in various states generating power up to 50 MW.

The French firm’s team was part of the 19 delegates from various European firms who visited Bangalore Nov 14-18 to sell their knowhow in water and waste water treatment, biomass refining, setting up floating photovoltaic systems on water bodies, automated waste collection and restoring lakes and rivers.

Their visit was arranged by European Business and Technology Centre (EBTC), which estimates the Indian market for environment-friendly technology is $10 billion and growing at 15 percent every year.

Enzen and Ciel-et-Terre are working out details of the number of plants and their location, Rajarathnam said.

Tata Power announced in March that it will set up India’s first floating solar PV project on a pilot basis in association with Australian solar power company Sunengy. It is likely to come up in Pune by the end of this year.

“In peninsular India, manmade tanks were developed traditionally for harvesting rainwater and the three states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh alone have a total tank water surface area of 19,960 sq km. If even one percent of this water surface were to be utilised for floating PV, the generation potential is about 3,260 MW,” Rajarathnam said.

Apart from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat also have numerous water bodies in addition to very high solar radiation levels that make this technology a very attractive option, she said.

Kerala, Orissa and West Bengal too offer potential in their brackish water bodies to set up floating PV projects, Rajarathnam said.

The cost of power from these plants will be comparable to ground-based solar energy plants. The cost of solar energy, at present, is higher than power from conventional hydro or thermal plants.

However, the cost will come down as prices of PV panels is falling, Rajarathnam said.

“Lower costs (of PV panels) together with the subsidies being offered by the national and state governments through various schemes such as the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission make capital intensive solar PV projects commercially viable and attractive,” she said.

They will also eliminate the need for land, acquisition of which for industrial, infrastructure and housing projects has become a major issue of confrontation among land owners, governments and political parties in almost every state.


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