Accepting and promoting green energy through solar is amounting to be the one in a million ideas that promise to revolutionize and reform the world in a hurry. And Indian Government is decisively supporting solar, envisioning an energy rich country that fosters socio-economic reform. However, India being home to 17.86% (and growing) of global population, face continued shrinkage of available vacant space for solar panel installation. In such a scenario India has taken the second step towards revolution, incorporating creative engineering choices, harvesting solar energy on top of canals and water bodies.
Is It a Suitable Replacement of Land?
It is more than suitable. Besides solving space constraints, the water-solar panel nexus can stop evaporation of water. Approximately 100 sqft of area is required for a meagre 1 kW solar plant. And if we compare, we will see that space required for a 100 MW thermal power plant is less than 10 per cent of what a 100 MW solar plant would need. So, it is fair to assume that if not now, in near future using available land mass for solar installation will face flak. So, using waterbodies for solar generation is not just commendable, it is necessary for India and the world to secure the future of green energy, which serves our own individual and communal needs.
Now that we have factually settled the argument regarding the viability of using canal top and floating solar ideas, let us delve into the rising water crisis, that solar generation on water bodies can solve.
Serving Energy Saving Water
Not just a catchy line, it is one of the many major benefits of establishing more and more canal top and floating solar plants. India’s rapidly mushrooming population is estimated to reach 1.7 billion within 2050. But, challenges in providing clean, safe drinking water throughout the nation has always been constant in the country (and expected to rise with the population). Currently more than 76 million people in India still do not have access to clean and safe water supply. If the situation persists, India is estimated to face a 50 per cent water deficit within 2030. It is surprising because India is not a water scare country. We are blessed with rivers and our annual rainfall stand to 1170 millimetres (average). A closer inspection of the problem would show you that it is evaporation, pollution, and contamination that create clean water scarcity in the country.
As a remedy, we have the engineering marvel, that is capable enough to support solar panels on waterbodies and canal tops, saving water, while generating energy. These types of solar installations can reduce water evaporation, reduce growth rate of algae, and can become the reason to safe guard water bodies from waste disposal, keeping fresh water reserves in check.
The Inception and Growth
Canal Top Solar:
2012 was the year when the canal top solar installation in Gujarat, India, came out of the drawing board and started turning into reality. Having canals stretching to 80,000 kilometers, made Gujarat the perfect candidate for this project. After completion of the first project (1 MW capacity), Gujarat has taken multiple initiatives in establishing similar projects on canals understanding that approximately 90 million liters of water can be saved from evaporation through completely covering the canals in the state. 10 MW capacity solar installation on Narmada canals in Gujarat in 2015, has received commendations in global podium as well. Currently near about 100 MW of solar plant installations on and beside canals are in different stages of implementation in eight Indian states. Gujarat can serve as an example for the rest of the states in India to protect water while promoting green energy.
In 2015, India saw its first floating solar plant in Kolkata, West Bengal (one of the innovative projects of Vikram Solar). Being a lot challenging (from engineering standpoint) than any other solar plant installation type, the first of its kind floating plant received worldwide attention, and cleared a lot of confusion, showcasing best path to use- irrigation ponds, waste water treatment plants, drinking water reservoirs, water storage tanks, large lakes, dams and other waterbodies to harvest green energy, while saving water.
The first 10 kW project was just the beginning and drawing inspiration from the project, India aggressively started installing floating solar plants over water bodies. In March 2017, India installed its then largest 100 kW floating solar plant at Kayamkulam, Kerala. And within just 7 months (October) broke its own record installing 500 kW capacity plant in the same state (Kerala). It is estimated that if the country succeeds in utilizing even 1% of its 11583 square miles of contained water bodies through floating solar, it could generate more power than 15 medium to large coal fired power stations.
Understanding the implications of such endeavours, India has plans to install more than 20 MW of floating solar plants in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh. New projects amounting to 80 MW in floating solar are expected to be installed within 2019, thus the future seems bright for floating solar sector in India.
These installation ideologies are only supported by engineering excellence, and it is a delight to see that we are changing, we are re-prioritizing our needs and trying to find a single solution for multiple problems. The way we are raising our efforts in protecting what is at stake (energy, water, the planet), assures future of solar energy; ultimately offering us sustainability as a legacy for the next generation.
However, the efforts need to be increased if we are to save primary elements of sustenance like water and energy, and fortunately we have already found the all-in-one solution in solar.