By Sridhar D’Iyer
SINCE ages the power supply needs of India have and are being met from hydroelectricity projects of different scales that are situated in several states. But due to growing demands with an increase in population, houses, industries, commercial establishments, offices and so forth there is always an acute shortage of electricity. This leads to sharing and buying of electricity amongst the states, large-scale pilferage by the people, severe shortage of power, load-shedding and outages. The hydroelectricity projects that were set-up in the past and which still cater to the needs did not face much agitations from people and environmentalists. But in the recent years there has always been an uproar whenever any large infrastructural projects are started by the governments, either by the Center or the State.
Some of the concerns raised by the people are genuine and pertain to the loss of their precious lands, jobs, non-payment of suitable compensations, forced migration of the people from their present place, deforestation, effects on flora and fauna, loss of soil cover, landslides, etc. Under the pretext of installing hydroelectricity there is always the fear that vested interests will grab the land and resources and put-up buildings, resorts, restaurants and so forth. This is a Catch-22 situation for the people and authorities. But electricity is required for the benefit of the people and for nuclear power the project hinges on the availability of water and building of large dams and reservoirs for its storage, installation of turbines and associated machinery.
INDIA is blessed with two monsoon seasons: summer monsoon (June to October) when most parts of India receive copious rains from the southwest direction, and winter monsoon (November to January) when the northeast winds bring in the rains due to retreat of the SW rains. Yet, this is not enough for India to produce hydro-electricity to meet our needs.
In a recent report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) examined the opportunities and challenges that India would face in her energy productions and usages. In the next 20 years and as compared to many countries our demand for energy would have the largest increase, and in turn this would lead to greater prosperity and development.
Considering the challenges, needs and opportunities, we must explore alternate sources to obtain power and in this endeavor renewable energy (RE) is the best. The RE comprises solar, wind, tidal, wave and ocean thermal energy conversion and of these the simplest, cleanest and most economical is solar energy.
The Central government realized that with the ever-growing demands for power there is an urgent need to explore and utilize the various RE sources. Hence, a Ministry for Renewable Energy (MRNE) was established to study the feasibility and speed up the implementation of various RE sources in the country. Wave and OTEC were tested in the past in some places of India but the projects were soon abandoned. Now there is a renewed interest in wave energy and plans are afoot to set-up plants at Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. This article pertains only to solar power in general and floating solar plants (FSP) in particular and with respect to Goa.
BEING in the tropics, India is blessed with ample sunlight throughout the year with intense sunlight somewhere or the other during the different seasons. When the southwest or summer monsoon hits the western located States (viz., Kerala, coastal Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and coastal Gujarat); there is sunshine in the eastern States (i.e. Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Telangana, Odisha, West Bengal) and to a large extent in the northern States beyond the Vindhya mountains (viz, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Delhi, Punjab, etc.). Yet, for centuries India has not fully tapped into this cheap and free source of solar energy for various reasons such as absence technology, know-how, cost of installation, absence of trained personnel, more Profits obtained from hydroelectricity than from solar energy and skepticism of the people about the efficiency of solar energy. In the past there were one-off solar roof panels and even solar rice cookers were available in the mid-1990s but these did not catch on.
In recent years, several state governments have come out with policies that either encourages or mandate setting up of solar panels, offer subsidies and free technical advice to those setting up solar installations. Although the initial cost of solar panels is expensive but over the years the expenses incurred are recovered. This could be by way of lower units billed and/or the excess solar energy could be sold to the governments by connecting with the main grids. In addition, the other benefits are: hardly any outages, less maintenance costs, power supply available even during the monsoon, work and manufacturing productivities increases, among others.
Because of such positive aspects, harnessing solar energy is slowly back in favor by individuals, hotels, housing societies, offices, etc. In 2015 the Kochi airport (Kerala) was the first to run all its operation solely on solar energy. In 2020, Puducherry commissioned its solar power plants. In July 2021, the Hyderabad International Airport (5,000 acres) commissioned its 2nd solar power plant (45 acres) which has helped to double the capacity from 5 MW (mega watt) in 2016 to 10 MW. The surplus energy generated is connected to the state’s electrical grid.
By the end of December 2021, India’s cumulative installed solar capacity was 55 GW and about 77% of that came from grid-connected utility-scale projects. The rest was from grid-connected rooftop solar (20%) and mini or micro off-grid projects (3%).
India had set her aim to achieve an initial target of 100 GW solar capacity by the end of 2022 which was extended in August 2021 to 300 GW by 2030. At the Glasgow climate summit (CoP26) in November 2021, India announced that her non-fossil energy capacity will reach 500 GW by 2030. This will help India to meet 50% of the energy requirements (https://www.saurenergy.com/solar-energy-blog/the-top-5-upcoming-floating-solar-power-projects-in-india).
Floating Solar Plants (FSP): The first solar power plant (“SolarSea”) in the sea was built in the Maldives water in 2014 by Michael Tittmann, one of Germany’s solar pioneers and Martin Putschek the founder of “Swimsol,” in association with the Vienna University of Technology and the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany. Floating photovoltaic (FPV) or floatovoltaics have been installed in China, Japan, the UK and the USA. In FSP, an array of FPV made of anti-rust material, fixed to buoyant structure and made to float on top of water bodies. The water bodies could be lakes, dams and reservoirs where the water body is much calmer than seas and oceans.
Moving ahead, the Centre took a bold step to have solar plants installed in water bodies such as in dams, reservoirs and in backwaters. These Floating Solar Plants (FSP) have several advantages over the land-based solar parks, such as:
- Photovoltaic panels can be installed on the surface of large water bodies.
- Issues of land procurements, litigation, payments to affected parties and other issues are nil to absent.
- Non-acquired lands for the FSP can be used for horticulture, agriculture and for other purposes.
- There is an increase in efficiency of power generated since the panels are naturally cooled by the surrounding water.
- Movement of water over the panels would remove the dust and grime.
- Though a little pricey but FSP may be faster to install than land-based solar plants.
- FSP can be easily connected to the main electricity grids.
- Reduction in evaporation of the water bodies as the panels cover a large surface area.
- Growth of algal, weeds etc. could decrease. But perhaps microorganism could be affected.
- A reduction in carbon emission to the atmosphere lessens the effects of climate change.
In India, the following FSP are either commissioned or will be completed soon.
- Omkareshwar Reservoir FSP of 600 MW in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh will be the world’s largest FSP and built on the Narmada River which is presently used for hydel project and is spread over 100 sq km. There would be six units of 100 MW each of grid-connected photovoltaic projects. This multipurpose FSP project will help conserve land and water and boost agriculture, industry and tourism. The project could be operational in 2023-24 and costs over Rs.3,000 crore.
- Ramagundam Reservoir FSP of 100 MW in Telangana with a 100 MW plant is located on 450 acres and is on the site of the existing thermal power project of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC). The FSP costs about Rs 423 crore for 40 blocks with each of 2.5 MW. Of the 100 MW, in March 2022, 80 MW was under commercial operation and the plant was fully operational on 1st July 2022. With this FSP, the capacity in the Southern Region has reached in has reached 217 MW.
- Simhadri FSP of NTPC’s spans over 75 acres of the Simhadri reservoir’s area, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh. It has a generation capacity of 25 MW and was commissioned on 21st August 2021.
- The Kayamkulam FSP of 92 MW costing about Rs. 465 crore is in Kerala under the auspices of the NTPC and is set up on the lake adjacent to its Rajiv Gandhi Combined Cycle Power Project. The project was awarded to Tata Power Solar Systems (70 MW) and Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (22 MW). In March 2022, BHEL opened the project for commercial operation. Because of delay in procuring solar cells from China the project could not be put into operation in 2021 but on 29th July 2022 the FSP was completed and dedicated to the nation by Tata.
- The Getalsud dam project of 100 MW near Ranch in Jharkhand was planned since 2018-19 and was approved in April 2021. The project is likely to start in 2023 and made commercially available in 2024 and would cost Rs.650 crore.
- The Rihand Dam FSP of 150 MW is in Uttar Pradesh. The work will be carried out by M/s Shapoorji Pallonji for 50 MW. Besides the Covid-19 pandemic, there are certain hindrances for the project such as the terrain, logistics and procurement of floating platforms. The plant may be operational by 2024-25.
- Combined Ground and FSP of 15 MW in Kawas, Gujarat.
Utilisation of solar power in Goa: Goa with a population of 15 lakhs and lakhs of houses, offices, educational institutions, research organisations, pharma companies, small-scale factories, shops etc. needs ample power. Also being a tourist destination electricity is essential but many a times there is an acute shortage of power especially during the summer months. Currently the Goa electricity department distributes 720 MW of power to the State. In the absence of hydel projects, Goa buys electricity from Maharashtra and Karnataka and solar power from Assam at @Rs. 5.30 per unit and 50 MW solar power from the Arunachal Pradesh Power Corporation Pvt. Ltd @Rs. 5.10 from November till October 31, 2026. The estimated cost for 50 MW is Rs.50.10 crore per year and for 2022-23 it will be Rs. 23.37 crore. The agreement is to meet the solar renewable purchase obligation (RPO) as proposed by the Joint Electricity Regulatory Commission (JERC). The JERC mandates that every State must annually purchase electricity from RE sources at a defined minimum percentage of the total consumption of all the consumers in that State. Non-implementation of the RPO results in a penalty of Rs.1 lakh per year and Rs.60,000 per day if the default is continued.
But the above-mentioned energy supplies are insufficient since by 2030, Goa would need over 1,000 MW. To meet this requirement Goa needs to harness solar power and in this endeavour the people have been encouraged to set-up roof-top solar panels. On 5th June 2022, World Environment Day, the Environment Minister Mr. Nilesh Cabral lamented that in Goa there are hardly any takers for solar power generation despite providing subsidies, assistance and offers to buy the excess energy produced by those using solar power.
There are two reasons for the people not installing solar panels, one is less awareness about the pros and cons and second the initial cost involved in the installation. Adding to these woes, in the budget of 2021 the tax on solar equipment was increased by the Centre. These facts perhaps make the people hesitant to use solar power. The MNRE is pushing for alternate sources of energies and India has planned several mega solar projects and due to the extra taxes, the prices would escalate. Hope the tax was not thrust at the behest of the private electricity distribution and oil companies to discourage people to go in for solar power.
In November 2022 the Goa government notified a Policy on Rainwater Harvesting (RWH) (Amendment) 2022 for water management techniques, collection of rainwater and recharging of groundwater. The Policy makes RWH mandatory for residences, commercial complexes and industrial units that are built on plots of 2,000 sq m, 1,500 sq m and 10,000 sq m and above, respectively; and in buildings, schools and colleges of the government. In a similar manner there could be a firm policy to utilise solar power.
FEASIBILITY OF FSP IN GOA
GOA has large tracts of hinterland/ backwater bodies (though on a lesser scale than Kerala) and five dams and reservoirs. These are Amthane 168 acres, Anjunem 625 acres, Panchwai 131 acres, M.I. Tank Chapoli 272 acres and Selaulim 7,324 acres. Considering these potential sites, the government should explore the possibility of setting up FSP to help Goa lessen its dependence on other States for energy. Further, the FSP would lead to savings by stopping or reducing purchase of electric and solar energy from other States and the excess solar power if produced by Goa, could be sold profitably to needy States.
The three ministries in Goa viz., Power and New and Renewable Energy, Town and Country Planning and Environment could frame rules that would mandate all new constructions (bungalows, flats, hotels, office buildings etc.) to submit the proposal for solar power generations along with their applications for various clearances. Unless this is done and working solar panels installed the occupancy certificates should be withheld. Installation of solar panels in existing and old buildings should be encouraged. The government should fast-track the solar projects, release the promised subsidies and quickly approve the plans of those who only need permission and not the subsidies. All these could be done through on-line and single-window clearances.
Nature has given us free water and solar energy. It is time that we accelerate the conservations of the former and use the latter for our benefits, now and for the future generations.
PS: On Thursday 16.12.2022, at 6.10 am or so, while typing the section, “Feasibility of FSP in Goa,” there was a power failure for more than 30 minutes. Was it an omen or a signal for Goa to go in for renewable energy?!