India’s National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) is planning a 50 MW photovoltaic project that will be the world’s largest freshwater floating solar power plant! The estimated $64–$72 million project will be set over reservoirs and lakes in the southern state of Kerala. The project was developed with technical assistance from the Kolkota-based Renewable Energy College (REC), and the first pilot operation is due to go online in October, 2014.
Funding for the pilot project has been provided by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE). Unfortunately, while India has subsidy and grant programs for the development and implementation of solar power, project costs have been rising rapidly. Opportunistic land owners have been increasing the asking price of unused land earmarked for solar developments by around 20 to 30 percent. Floating solar power plants circumvent the price grabs because the surface of the water cannot be used for anything else. Projects would pay rent to the owners of the water bodies. It is believed that infrastructure costs and the unit cost of energy production for the Kerala plant will be around 15 percent lower than land-based projects.
While there are pre-existing designs for floating photovoltaics, the REC team have developed their own system. Currently they are fine tuning anchorage systems to tolerate high wind conditions. REC team leader Dr. SP Gon Choudhury sees many benefits to floating solar arrays, stating: “The ecology of the water body is not likely to be affected much and it will also reduce evaporation, thus helping preserve water levels during extreme summer. Solar panels installed on land face reduction of yield as the ground heats up. When such panels are installed on a floating platform, the heating problem is solved to a great extent.”
The initial project is planned for Kerala state, but the southern and eastern parts of the country have many large water bodies that could also be used to implement such a system. The proposed final array will have an output of 50 MW, blitzing the 1.2 MW system that opened in Okegawa, Japan, in July 2013. Singapore has hopes to build an enormous floating solar array too, though the design has not yet been finalized. While there are larger floating solar PV plants on the sea, for now at least the Kerala system will be the largest onshore floating solar power project in the world.