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Floating solar plants may lose viability in India due to cost pressure

Amritha Pillay/Mumbai 12 Jul 18 | 12:28 AM

Efforts from state governments such as those of Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh to develop floating solar plants might hit the financial-viability hurdle.

Industry officials said that non-availability of the primary float structure in India make these projects an expensive option. 

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Companies like JSW Energy have been planning to get into this business, while the Tatas and NTPC have already done pilots. Limited domestic availability of floats, however, is a big challenge. The industry has to depend on European or Chinese suppliers, which is not cost effective.  

The differential between a ground-mounted and a floating solar project does not make it viable in terms of product pricing, said Sharad Mahendra, executive vice-president for JSW Energy. The company has plans to set up a combined floating solar capacity of 250 Mw across various locations.  

In June, the Maharashtra government said that it had set up a committee for the development of a floating solar plant. Uttar Pradesh was another state where the process to call for bids to develop a similar solar capacity on the Rihand dam was underway. These plans, however, might hit the financial-viability roadblock.   

Floating solar plants are considered an alternate option to tackle land availability issues. The concept involves setting up solar panels on floats placed on dams, lakes and similar water bodies. However, the indigenous production of floats, which substitutes land in a floating solar power set-up, at present, is minimal.

In addition to the cost of imported floats, the logistic costs involved in transporting them to India are seen as a bigger challenge. "Float manufacturing has not yet started in India; the cost of logistics is an issue. We are technically importing air, as floats do not take up weight but take up a lot of space in transportation," said Anmol Jaggi, director for Gensol Group. The group is currently consulting Maharashtra's state power generation company for setting up 250 Mw of floating solar capacity. 

Jaggi pointed out that the transportation space taken for 100 Kw of modules is equal to what is needed to transport 20 Kw of floats. 

The country is yet to see bids submitted for a floating solar plant from potential power companies. "We should have more clarity on the price bids in the next few months," Mahendra added.  

JSW Energy will join the list of power producers like NTPC and Tata Power that have already experimented with floating solar. According to Tata Power's website, a 13.5 Kw pilot unit has been developed in which sunrays are concentrated on PV cells and the assembly floats on Walwhan lake in Maharashtra

in order to cool the cells.  

The pilot project is currently under evaluation. NTPC has set up a 100 Kw floating solar plant -- the largest single-location floating solar capacity in India -- in Kerala's Kayamkulam district. 

There are a couple of foreign manufacturers looking to set up float manufacturing capacity in India. Industry sources added that once floats were available in India and matched demand, the cost for one unit was expected to fall to sub-Rs 3 level -- which is still higher compared to ground-mounted solar. 

What ails floating solar?

Non-availability of floats in India makes it an expensive optionProject costs higher by 30%-50%than  ground mounted solarDependent on European or Chinese suppliers

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