After solar parks developed over vast tracts of land, the next big thing in renewable energy could be solar parks floating on water bodies.The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has initiated a study to assess the potential of floating solar parks in India. It has roped in Germany-based KfW Development Bank to build two large floating solar projects in Maharashtra and Kerala at an initial investment of about Rs 300 crore.
“The KfW-funded floating solar park would be a showcase project that would demonstrate the technical viability of large solar projects. To begin with, at least 40 MW of floating solar capacity would be set up,” said a senior MNRE official. “Initial estimates suggest that the country could generate at least 310 gigawatts of green power from such floating solar parks,” said SP Gon Chaudhuri, chairman of the Kolkata-based Renewable Energy College.
“This assumes that only 10% of the water bodies can be used for setting up floating solar facilities.” The MNRE has entrusted the National Institute of Solar Energy and the Renewable Energy College to jointly undertake the study. They will rope in the National Remote Sensing Centre to evaluate the potential for floating solar plants, he said.
There are 61.48 lakh hectares of still water surfaces in India, of which reservoirs are 29.26 lakh hectares and tanks and ponds are 24.24 lakh hectares, according to the agriculture ministry. Floating solar panels are more efficient than those on land because the water bodies cool them. Several companies and states have started looking at the option of such plants.
“One can generate 17 lakh units of power from a one megawatt floating solar facility per year, while the same on land will generate 16 lakh units. The area required for setting up the panels is the same – 4 acres per megawatt and the average generation cost thus is about Rs 7 per unit for both. Cost-wise, floating panels are a tad more expensive at Rs 8 crore per megawatt. However, as demand rises, the cost will also come down,” said Gon Chaudhuri.
The solar panels will be set up on floating platforms anchored firmly so that they do not drift. The main saving is on the land price and yield. The surface of the water body can be rented out at a minimal rate because they can be put to no other use.