As a renewable source of energy, solar power is an essential pillar in India’s efforts to address climate change and achieve the ambitious goal of 280 GW of installed solar capacity by 2030.
India’s installed renewable energy capacity stood at 150.4 GW, accounting for 38.41% of the overall power mix at the end of the fourth quarter of 2021.
The country’s current installed solar capacity is 51.4 GW, according to Mercom’s India Solar Project Tracker, which means India needs to install about 25 GW of solar annually until 2030 to achieve the goal.
A possible hurdle in meeting this target would be that solar deployment is land-intensive, and scaling up projects requires sizeable contiguous land parcels, which have its set of challenges.
To keep the pace of development adequate with India’s national targets for solar capacity additions, alternatives such as floating solar need to be explored and established. Floating solar or floating photovoltaic (FPV) are solar modules mounted on a structure that floats on a body of water.
Despite numerous advantages over ground-mounted solar projects, floating solar has seen a considerably lower number of installations in the country; India has about 170 MW of floating solar projects currently in operation compared to 52 GW of solar installed in the country.
Mercom spoke to industry stakeholders who have been managing the floating solar projects to understand the advantages, challenges, and future potential of such projects across India.
Why Floating Solar?
The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), in its report published in 2020, found that India’s reservoirs have 18,000 sq. km of area with the potential to generate 280 GW of solar power through floating solar projects. This translates to India’s entire installed solar capacity goal for 2030.
Speaking to Mercom, a top executive of a government-owned oil and gas corporation, said, “We have been in the renewables space with numerous ground-mounted and rooftop solar projects installed at our facilities nationwide. However, as rooftops and land is finite, we had to look for other options. Being a petrochemical complex, we had a huge man-made reservoir catering to our purpose. We decided to use this reservoir to install a floating solar project.”
“Another benefit we noticed is that floating solar project provided shade to the body of water and reduced evaporation from our reservoir. This is particularly useful in areas like ours, susceptible to drought, as water loss due to evaporation can add up over time and contribute to a shortage. There is also a significant reduction in operations and maintenance costs as the water from the reservoirs is used to clean the modules. We didn’t have to dig a bore well or channel water through pipes from a faraway source.”
Pankaj Kumar, Co-Founder and Director of Quant Solar said, “Solar modules are durable and can perform under high temperatures. But as with other electronics, with higher temperatures come decreased power outputs. Solar panel performance tends to decline as temperatures rise, causing worry among the property owners looking to install modules in a hot and sunny climate. The bodies of water that host floating solar arrays help cool down the solar equipment, which means the modules produce electricity at higher efficiencies in hot climates than they might otherwise.”
“Adding floating solar to dams makes sense because dams are generally large, open bodies of water with good road access and pre-existing infrastructure. So the entire project cost can be drastically reduced as there is no need to build a new transmission system,” Kumar added.
“One of the biggest challenges floating solar faces is the lack of technical know-how. Currently, there are just a handful of companies in the floating solar space. As more players enter the space and there is more traction, we can increase the size of the knowledge pool. The relatively higher project cost is another challenge that floating solar has gradually overcome. As with any new technology, it will take time for floating solar to become economical. If you see ground-mounted solar, it took nearly a decade for it to become as economical as it is today. Despite being a relatively newer technology, Floating solar will achieve price parity with ground-mounted projects in terms of project costs, in my opinion,” Kumar said.
The way forward
Talking to Mercom about the potential of floating solar, Kumar said,” If you closely observe the pattern, you can see that the size of floating solar projects has risen year-over-year. A couple of years ago, 2 MW was the size of the biggest floating solar project. Now there are many projects above 20- 30 MW. Soon we will have a 600 MW floating solar project in the backwaters of Omkareshwar Dam in Madhya Pradesh. This clearly indicates the prominent role floating solar will play in India’s renewable portfolio in the coming years.”
“Companies like Quant solar, which are engaged in research and development of floating solar, should be promoted by the government so that the industry can grow in totality. Government can consider providing grants or opportunities to collaborate with premium institutions like the Indian Institute of Technology or the Indian Institute of Science. This support from the government will also give the push required for more players to come into the floating solar segment and boost the sector as a whole.”
“Government should consider bringing the manufacturing of floating structures under the production linked incentive (PLI) program. Without government support, it is hard for any industry to grow.” Kumar concluded.
Rewa Ultra Mega Solar Limited has issued a request for proposal for consultancy firms to prepare a feasibility study report of three reservoirs in Madhya Pradesh for developing floating solar projects.
Arjun Joshi is a staff reporter at Mercom India. Before joining Mercom, he worked as a technical writer for enterprise resource software companies based in India and abroad. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Journalism, Psychology, and Optional English from Garden City University, Bangalore. More articles from Arjun Joshi.