If plans fructify, NHPC will become world’s largest floating solar company

So big are its ambitions that if plans fructify, NHPC Ltd will become the world’s biggest floating solar power company and will hold the record for a very long time. The public sector power major proposes to build 2,850 MW of floating solar power plants on various reservoirs of the country.

Only last month did the public sector hydro power company receive the in-principle approval from the Kerala State Electricity Board to construct a 50 MW floating solar plant on the West Kallada reservoir. Right now, “preparatory actions have been initiated” for tendering out for selecting a company to build the project.

Soalr Energy project

But that is for starters. The biggest of NHPC’s plans is for a joint venture with another public sector company, Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC), to build a whopping 1,800 MW of floating solar projects, spread over many reservoirs. According to NHPC, “discussions are underway”. For floating solar, 1,800 MW is a huge capacity. To illustrate, the world’s biggest operational floating solar plant is 120 MW in Anhui, China.

However, on other projects, things have progressed a bit further than “discussions”. Preparations for a Memorandum of Understanding are going on for a joint venture with the Green Energy Development Corporation Ltd, the renewable energy development agency of Odisha — for floating solar plants of total capacity of 500 MW. The MoU was scheduled to be signed on March 12, but the Covid-19 pandemic killed the plan.

And 500 MW more in collaboration with Telangana State Renewable Energy Development Corporation. These too would be many projects but all in the Mid-Manair Dam, Karim Nagar, Telangana area.

It is however, not clear whether the badge of being the owner of the largest single-location floating solar plant could be pinned on NHPC’s lapel, because the company officials couldn’t say the size of individual projects — it is too early to say that.

Last year, Madhya Pradesh said it would build a 1,000 MW floating solar on its Indira Sagar reservoir.

India has ambitious plans for floating solar plants. In 2018, the government of India unveiled a programme to have 10,000 MW of ‘floatovoltaics’ installed in the country. India has 5,334 large dams (at least 15 meters high), and another 411 under construction ― so there is a large reservoir area available for putting up floating solar plants. A recent report of The Energy Resources Institute noted that 18,000 sq km of reservoir area exists, on which potentially 2.8 lakh MW of solar plants could come up. Today, India has 3.6 lakh MW of installed power capacity, including 35,000 MW of solar power plants. As such, the potential is unquestioned.

The benefits of floating solar projects are immense. You don't spend on land, which can compensate for the costs of floats and extra cables. And power generation will typically be higher too ― by as much as 10 per cent compared with the conventional large-scale, ground-mounted solar power plants, according to TERI. Solar cells generate less when they get heated (it is the light that matters, not the heat); water under the modules help keep it cool.

The exact cost-benefit equation is not yet available, but it is clear that benefits outweigh costs, which should help bring down tariffs. However, TERI cautions that in this initial stage of development of floatovoltaics, emphasis should be on technology and not on tariff.

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