‘The right vision is needed to unleash the potential of floating PV in India’

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Since 2011, Ciel et Terre International, a French pioneer in the PV market, has specialized in developing floating solar projects for commercial, government and non-profit clients. With more than 155 floating solar farms in 28 countries, the company has installed more than 390 MW of generation capacity and has more than 100 MW more under installation.

Deepak Ushadevi is senior vice president for the company’s Ciel et Terre Solar Private Limited Indian subsidiary and has 17 years’ experience in the solar and semiconductor industries. His core expertise is in new business and market development and the introduction of technology. He was one of the key initial staff responsible for the first 300mm wafer fab built in Singapore and was a core member of the team responsible for producing the world’s first thin-film, single-junction solar line for U.S. company Applied Materials, in 2008. Ushadevi also introduced the first floating technology featuring blow molding in India, at Cochin International Airport this year.

Here, Ushadevi discusses the advantages of floating solar, the company’s Hydrelio® product line and the steps needed to reduce the cost differential between ground mounted and floating PV.

pv magazine: It is being said India has the potential to set up 300 GW of power generation capacity by tapping floating solar. What needs to be done to realize this potential?

Deepak Ushadevi: India has huge potential for floating solar and this can be effectively tapped with proper planning and the right vision. Standards on ground mounted and rooftop solar projects are well established and proven and are being used as a reference for floating solar plants by most stakeholders.

However, we need to develop international standards for floating solar plant design which must be based on field test results, analysis and theoretical and empirical study. Proper guidelines and regulations are needed to ensure that FPV [floating PV] is done in a safe and proper manner.

Globally, Ciel et Terre is involved with authorities like the Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, in France; the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in the United States; and the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation in Japan, to put in place on-field testing and FPV instrumentation to deeply understand the behavior of FPV plants not only in a testing chamber but also in real-scale installation.

With land often scarce and/or expensive, is floating solar the answer for clean energy?

With scarcity of land; legal issues and land disputes; and infinite acquisition delays, floating solar is the best solution, especially in India where plenty of bodies of water are available. Our company’s Hydrelio® technology is the perfect solution for various types of water body, including dams, quarry lakes, irrigation or water-treatment ponds. Man-made reservoirs are typically unobstructed from the sun, kept out of sight and located near energy-intensive consumption sites, making these spaces ideal candidates for solar PV systems.

Tell us more about the companys Hydrelio® product

Developed and deployed across over 28 countries, the Hydrelio® product line comprises three products adapted and designed in accordance with regional and market-led specifications: The Classic Hydrelio design (with a standard tilt of 12 degrees, easy operation and maintenance); the Equatorial design (fixed tilt 5 degrees, designed for equatorial adaptation, anchoring control, cost effective transport solution, optimized for a four-in-a-row configuration); and the Air Hydrelio design (11-degree float with a racking system, extra ventilation and cost-effective transport solution).

Your company has a presence in several countries. Whats the big difference between working in India and in other developed countries?

In developed countries, the selection is purely based on the technology credentials, bankability and reputation basis, whereas in India price is the main decision enabler. Indian developers and EPCs [engineering, procurement and construction service providers] should be extremely careful while selecting the technology. They should look for enablers like good high-density polyethylene (HDPE) raw material, a top-class ultraviolet (UV) stabilizer, good machines to produce quality floaters, quality checks, a quality assurance process, design tests and validation. Low HDPE and cheap UV stabilizers lead to lower cost initially but they do not last more than five years. In the long run, cheap products lead to more cost.

What are the main challenges and benefits of floating solar?

Water level variation, waves, high current, gusty winds, flood and the undercurrent of the water pose huge challenges, especially when it comes to anchoring and moving the floating platforms. The benefits can be categorized under three heads. Firstly, environmental benefits, as they minimize water evaporation, improve water quality and reduce algal bloom and limit reservoir erosion caused by wave action. Secondly, economic benefits as they convert unused spaces into profitable areas, enhance electricity generation thanks to the cooling effect, reduce grid-connection costs and major infrastructure investments and offer a synergy with existing infrastructure. And finally, social benefits, as they preserve valuable land for other uses, rehabilitate contaminated areas with clean energy and are compatible with recreational activities.

What needs to be done to bring down the cost differential between ground mounted and floating solar systems?

Previously, the difference between ground mounted and FPV was above 40%, a figure which has now reduced considerably. We cannot compare ground and floating solar directly. However, as compared to ground mount, the floating solution cost is 10-15% higher as additional floats, anchoring, mooring and plant design are required. However, one needs to take into account the extra generation in floating projects due to the cooling water effect. In demo trials, there’s more than 10% extra generation, but we could conservatively say that floating has 5-7% extra generation depending on the irradiation, wind, temperature of the water and size and depth of the water bodies.

What is the companys strategy?

We believe the floating solution will be one of the main enablers for the PV sector and we are targeting 1 GW of Hydrelio® solutions to be installed in the upcoming years in India. To achieve this, we are starting a local R&D division to support the Indian market. We are also investing in quality machines and looking into streamlining vendor development to lower the cost in this price-sensitive market.