Pavagada Solar Park Stands Tall Despite Delays and Hiccups

Following delays attributed to natural and man-made causes, officials now hope to have most of the capacity online this month

In Karnataka’s Tumkur district stands an expansive solar park that is spread across more than 13,000 acres of land. Karnataka’s Pavagada Solar Park, with a planned capacity of 2 GW, is divided into eight blocks of 250 MW each and has dedicated high voltage supply lines, pooling stations, and a pooling substation for evacuation. The mere magnitude and scale of the solar park make clear that this project will take an equally huge amount of planning, hard work, and time to bring online.

The Pavagada Solar Park was conceptualized in February 2015 and park development began in January 2016. A year later, grid-connected solar projects totaling 400 MW were commissioned. The process of conceptualizing and developing the required infrastructure for those projects has taken more than two years.

When the Mercom team visited the Pavagada Solar Park in November 2017, the development of park infrastructure was still well underway, and it was expected to take a few more months before the evacuation infrastructure for the entire 2 GW was up and running. Installation of the park infrastructure was delayed by flooding caused by heavy rains in September and October.

When asked about the delay in the development of park infrastructure, an on-site Karnataka Solar Power Development Corporation Limited (KSPDCL) official told Mercom in November, “For each of the 250 MW blocks, we are developing one pooling substation of 220 kV. We want to ensure that the infrastructure is reliable so that there are no hiccups in the future. This, obviously, is a time-consuming process.”

“We also want to minimize the loss of power during evacuation. For this, each 250 MW block has further been split into sub-blocks of 50 MW. Each of these 50 MW sub-blocks would then be connected to a respective pooling substation through 33 kV or 66 kV underground cables,” the KSPDCL official added.

“We are striving to make Pavagada one of the finest solar parks in India. We are also developing a 400 kV grid substation and the contract has been awarded to the Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL). This dedicated substation will be utilized to step up the power and will be connected to PGCIL’s 765 kV station at Madhugiri,” the KSPDCL official said.

The infrastructure needs of such a large-scale project are huge and development is further complicated by adverse conditions like the absence of access roads and scarce supply of water and power.

The most important prerequisite for any large-scale project is land availability, an obstacle that Pavagada has already cleared. The solar park is spread across 13,000 acres and convincing  people to give up vast amounts of their land for project development was challenging.

KSPDCL took a cue from other cases where landowner demands slowed down project development, and ensured that such a situation was not replicated at the Pavagada Solar Park.

A KSPDCL official proudly told Mercom, “Not a single FIR has been lodged. Not a single complaint. There have been no issues with any of the land owners.”

When asked to elaborate, the KSPDCL official said, “It took us a few months to convince the people. The state government could have easily vacated the land, but we believe that true development is only possible when everyone benefits. So, we took it upon ourselves to convince all of the villagers that leasing out the land for 25 years was in their own interest, and that the land would still belong to the families… It took us some time of course, but by October we had reached an understanding with everyone,” added the KSPDCL official.

In a conversation with the Mercom team, various on-site engineers recalled how KSPDCL had to work on the augmentation of a 25-kilometer (25-mile) road to begin the work at Pavagada. Later, another 40 kilometers of land had to be developed to provide easy access to the park. Road construction and other park development activities are still ongoing. Officials informed Mercom that close to 120 kilometers of new roads will be developed to cover the entire solar park.

Overcoming the scarcity of water in the region was another Herculean task. KSPDCL had to revive water bodies in the surrounding areas to provide an easy and uninterrupted water supply. This alone required two monsoon seasons.

Mercom also met and interacted with the on-site engineers of project developers Amara Raja, L&T, and the Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL). During the interaction, Mercom learned about the role that bad weather had played in slowing the park’s development.

Development of the evacuation infrastructure was delayed by flooding. Much of the park is comprised of black soil that retains vast amounts of water. This soil attribute, coupled with flooding, stranded all kinds of civil works in the park for a long time. Huge quantities of red soil had to be procured and substituted to resume the stalled work.

A few project developers also explained that their work was delayed when their needed solar modules became stuck at ports following the levy of an extra customs duty.

Despite the delays and obstacles, KSPDCL is optimistic that the project will soon be operational. “Though I can’t specify a month, looking at the progress we have made so far, I think by January 2018, most projects will be complete and ready to be evacuated. Then, as the capacities are tendered, the evacuation infrastructure and grid-synchronization will be made available,” an official said.

In December 2017, Mercom reported that Tata Power Renewable Energy Ltd. (TPREL) and Fortum, a Finnish energy company, commissioned another 100 MW each of grid-connected solar projects for the Pavagada Solar Park. In addition, ReNew Power has begun the grid synchronization of 50 MW and Adani Green Energy, a subsidiary of Parampujya Solar Energy, will also soon be finished with the grid synchronization of another 50 MW.

“From the ground it looks like a lot of good hard work went into park development. Central government agencies need to visit these parks regularly and coordinate better before announcing policies, goals and due dates that match the ground realities,” said Priya Sanjay, Managing Director of Mercom India.