1. How Floating Solar can change the dynamics of the renewable energy sector?
FSPV is gaining a lot of traction recently and it has influenced the environmental/ economic/social section more than any other renewable segment.
Environmental benefits: Minimizes water evaporation, Improves water quality and reduces algal Bloom Economic benefits:
Converts unused spaces into profitable areas, Enhances electricity generation (thanks to the cooling effect), Reduces grid-connection costs and major infrastructures investments, lower O&M costs due to less soiling, Social benefits: Preserves valuable lands for other uses, Rehabilitates contaminated areas with clean energy, Compatible with recreational activities, Environmental amenity, positive aesthetics A third pillar to the Solar PV sector- this is the appropriate sentence to describe floating solar importance in the renewable energy sector now. Standards on ground-mounted and rooftop solar projects are well established and proven and these standards are used as references for floating solar plants by most of the stakeholders. However, an international dedicated standard for floating solar plant design must be developed that defines based on field test results, analysis, and theoretical and empirical study allowing building safe FPV while doing viable and profitable investments.
2. Where does India stand in such floating solar plants in respect to the rest of the world?
The FSPV as a technology is still in the nascent stages of development in India. India still standing in 6th position behind China, Japan, North Korea & Taiwan. However, at this moment there is close to 50 MWp commissioned capacity in India and more than 1GW worth of projects, which are in various stages of development and much more are in pipeline making the outlook very positive for this new segment. The FSPV sector is now getting a lot of attention in the country, which can be seen via an increase in the numbers of tenders and EOI that are released in the past 2 years.
3. How floating solar projects are different in terms of installation and maintenance.
The installation is different and requires experienced engineers and technicians. The know-how of floating array load/ distribution and buoyancy is very crucial to implement and any wrongdoing during installation will be a disaster in the making. One has to visualize the site conditions. The use of appropriate tools, understanding the use of different make materials for each specific site, etc is very much essential while during installation. The onus is on us now to develop quality projects in India, and asset is protected for 25 years.
Another aspect is on the O&M part. The cost is cheaper than a ground-mounted system, as there is less soiling due to the water around, plenty of water availability for cleaning. Conventional brush cleaning reduces O&M expenses.
4. What are the challenges and opportunities in India’s floating solar market?
Floating solar became a realistic market now as India is currently witnessing a growing energy need, with scarcity in the land, legal issues in land acquisition, disputes, infinite acquisition delays, and ground mount / roof-mounted solar are becoming challenging in recent times, the floating solar is the apt solution. The primary challenge is that the floating solar projects must be sustainable for 25 years. All others come second. Unlike ground mount, floating solar must Keep the fundamental techniques intact. Each site should have different designs depending on the topography of the area. There should not be a replication of the project. The variation in the water level and the undercurrent of the water also pose challenges, especially when it comes to anchoring and moving the floating platforms. A proper study of the topography, good knowledge of engineering techniques, and bathymetric study would be able to solve some of the problems faced by the developers. Bathymetric, SPT, Wind speed, Wave analysis, should be considered while making a designer suit. Henceforth quality is paramount to protect the asset for 25 years at least.
5. As an ‘innovative’ solar option, floating solar is priced higher than utility-scale solar, and also faces some unique challenges. Tell us more about this aspect and the long-term trends as you see them.
As compared to ground mount ~ 10 % higher when it comes to floating solution. This may vary depending on the complexities of the project site and conditions. However, you need to consider the extra energy generation due to the cooling effect of the water on the panels. Although in demo trials, we see more than 10% extra generation, we could conservatively say that there is a 5-7% extra generation depending on the irradiation, wind, temperature of the water, size, and depth of the water bodies, etc. This extra generation may negate the delta difference between the Capex cost to a certain extent for sure. In terms of commercials, installing a floating solar plant is indeed higher than a utility-scale solar. But, considering in the longer run, floating solar saves land space, which can be used for something beneficial in the line. Also, the ROI is high.