Floating solar technology is emerging as a panacea for densely populated counties where land is a constraint. According to a market report “where sun meets water” produced by the World Bank Group and the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (SERIS), the global potential of floating solar is estimated to be around 400 GW.
This is close to is the total capacity of all solar photovoltaic installations in the world at the end of 2017.
Floating solar is the installation of solar PV panels floating on the surface of lakes, hydropower reservoirs, agriculture reservoirs, industrial ponds, and near-coastal areas. It is one of the fastest-growing power generation technologies today.
As per the report, floating solar capacity has grown from 10 MW in 2014 to 1.1 GW in 2018. This growth is more than ten times in just four years.
One of the advantages of floating solar is that there is no issue of land acquisition and site preparation as we see with traditional solar installations. Often, floating solar sites also are much closer to population where demand for electricity is high.
Mercom has reported about how large-scale solar projects are facing land constraints throughout India. Understanding the benefits of floating solar, Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) had invited Expression of Interest (EoI) in December 2017, from prospective project developers to set up of 10 GW of floating solar PV projects in a phased manner in the next three years.
The report explains that floating solar can also complement existing hydropower infrastructure. For example, covering only 3-4 percent of the reservoir with floating solar panels can double the electricity generation capacity of the dam. Apart from this, combining hydropower with solar power can manage the variable nature of solar power and help maintain grid stability.
In addition, when the water availability is low, solar capacity can be used first and hydropower can be used at night or during peak demand. It can also help the agricultural reservoirs as solar panels can reduce evaporation, improve water quality, and provide energy source for pumping and irrigation.
The report mentions that even though up-front costs are slightly higher for floating solar, in the long run floating solar are at par with traditional solar PV. It is because of floating solar’s higher energy yield due to the cooling effect of water.
However, there are some challenges in the widespread expansion of floating solar. For example- possible effects on water quality, complications related to the anchoring and mooring of installations, the complexity of maintaining some parts of the installations like electrical components etc.
According to the report, floating solar has a huge potential for fast-growing Asian economies and large projects are being installed or planned in China, India and Southeast Asia.
The interest in developing floating solar projects is growing in India. In June, government of Maharashtra had set up a committee to examine the issues related to the development of a floating solar power project at the Ujani dam in Sholapur. The committee was to study the potential environmental impact of the floating solar project on the dam, which is one of the largest in Maharashtra.
Mercom has reported that The Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (MSEDCL) has invited expression of interest for prospective developers to develop 1,000 MW of floating solar photovoltaic (PV) projects.
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