The largest floating solar PV (FSPV) in India, 500 kW, was inaugurated in November 2017 in the state of Kerala. The second largest is 100 kW at another site in Kerala which was commissioned in May 2017. There are several other projects in the pipeline including MW scale FSPV proposed in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala by the Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI). However, the total PV capacity floating on the waters of India is probably less than 1 MW as on date. Nevertheless, SECI has called for an EoI for 10 GW of FSPV to be commissioned in next three years on Build-Own-Operate basis.
Floating solar is relatively a new concept globally as well as in India. The first global floating PV came into existence around 2010 and there are less than 100 such installations worldwide. The largest one is 40 MW in China, which is now building a new 150 MW installation. India’s first such project of 10 kW was commissioned in Kolkata in the year 2014. It is catching up fast, not only to address the challenges associated with land-acquisition for ground- mounted solar, but presumably also to look for alternatives that can fill the gap in the likelihood of India not achieving its 40 GW roof-top solar targets.
The 500-kW project has proven the sturdiness of its anchor design, one of the main challenges of FSPV. However, there are other factors that have to be kept in mind while floating a PV plant on water bodies. The environmental impacts of such projects are often neglected in the wake of solar being categorized as a green technology in the context of its environmental impacts. Easing of environmental clearance norms for solar projects through a recent government announcement will further undermine the importance of conducting a thorough environmental and social impact assessment of such projects. For instance, the impact on tourism and fisheries; contamination of water by paints and chemicals used in materials for floating platforms; or the risk of unauthorized entry into restricted water reservoir areas through maintenance accesses to PV floats cannot be ignored. All of these, and more, have to be assessed carefully for every project before it is given clearance.
While we all focus on MW scale FSPV projects to meet the ambitious solar targets, we must also consider the options of small-scale distributed and decentralized floating PV plants on local water bodies installed mainly to cater to localized demand. This is a market segment that often gets discriminated in any new solar scheme. But if affirmative actions are taken to support this category, it has the potential to achieve mega numbers – not for watts but for people who will be benefitted by small scale FSPV plants.
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