After Gujarat, more states to harness solar power from canal-top

Haryana, Odisha explore possible sites

By Aruna Kumarankandath
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Photo courtesy: UN/Ruhani Kaur

After the success of the canal-top solar plant in Gujarat, more states are planning similar projects. The Gujarat State Electricity Board’s 10 megawatt (MW) plant is built over a 3.6-kilometre stretch of the Sardar Sarovar Canal System. During the inauguration of this 10 MW plant in January this year, the Central government announced it would promote similar projects in other parts of the country and sanctioned Rs 228 crore to construct 50 MW of canal-top and 50 MW of canal-bank solar projects. SunEdison, one of the biggest solar power companies, based in the US, had also commissioned a 1 MW plant on the banks of the Krishna river for the Karnataka government.

Earlier this month, Haryana government announced the start of extensive feasibility study for the state to develop canal-top solar power project. “We are working to adopt the ‘green power generation’ project as commissioned by the Gujarat government on the Narmada River. Surveys by experts from HAREDA [Haryana Renewable Energy Department] and irrigation departments are under way to find suitable places across the state to place solar power grids,” HAREDA director Balraj Singh told media. 

An official of the irrigation department says such innovative renewable power generation options may also reduce wastage of water on account of evaporation during summers. “But it will be a challenge to protect the expensive glass panels and other metal structures stationed in the isolated locations.”  According to Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, the 10 MW Gujarat plant has saved on 16 hectares of land, and will potentially prevent 90 million litres of water from evaporating each year.

The Haryana government says power generated from these plants would be costlier than the average solar power plant because of the cost of peripheral structures. The Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy will play a key role in the HAREDA project.

Another state to take cue from Gujarat is Odisha where the Odisha Hydro Power Corporation (OHPC) Limited has proposed to set up canal top solar power plants on experimental basis. “We are going to set up solar power plants on a 10 km length canal stretch on pilot-basis. The process of identification of suitable canal stretches has been undertaken.” says Prakash Kumar Nanda, Superintending Engineer. The water resource department is looking at Rengali irrigation project, Subarnarekha irrigation project and Puri canal to identify suitable space.

Canal-top projects have unique advantage of not using any land. In a country like India, land is scarce and heavily contested. So, these projects provide an alternative and also save water.

Question of viability

However, all the projects that have been installed have been financed entirely by state governments. So, finance is a key. The first MW installed on Sardar Sarover in Gujarat was estimated to cost Rs 17.71 crore. The cost of generation of power was Rs 6.20 per unit. Central Electricity Regulatory Commission announced the benchmark for levelized tariff of solar PV (tariff realised over the span of the project) at Rs. 6.86 per unit at the capital cost of Rs 12 crores per MW. The question is whether these projects can be commercially viable without the support of government subsidy.

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  • Why canal based solar

    Why canal based solar projects? To construct on the canal the panels is costly and also to reach them difficult (for O & M). Is there no land to put up solar Projects in Gujarat? The present efficiency of solar cells is very low(about 15%). It is expected in couple of years more efficient solar cells will be in the market. CanÔÇÖt we wait for couple of years? With the present investment in solar projects we can have more cheap and efficient systems in the future. On the other hand with half of the investment (what has been invested in Solar PV) Wind Farms can be set up whose efficiency is around 35%. Wind Turbines (of MW size) can be erected in a month. It is all public money that goes into solar projects and it should be spent judiciously and wisely.
    How can PV panels put on the canal generate 15% more energy than on land? As I mentioned in my comments the present solar PV efficiency is hardly 15%. Common sense tells me the temperature in the air around the canal length is less compared to outside the canal. This means solar insolation temperature will be less on the panels mounted on the canal.
    It was claimed ÔÇ£Significant amount of water is saved from loss due to evaporation under direct sun. Mounted panels provide shade.ÔÇØ What is the length of the Canal and to what area the Solar Panels were covered? Such sweeping comments are for politicians which have no scientific background.
    In fact there is a joke about Solar Cell: The Amount of energy that goes into the production of solar cell is more than the output it gives in its life time! The material that goes into solar panels aluminium, steel,glass etc. are all energy intensive.
    No body is against solar energy. In fact the coming age is all Renewable energy. Solar Water Heaters, Solar Cookers, Solar driers, Solar Reading Lights with LED etc. will be a boon for developing countries. Solar Cooker (Box Type) which is more than 60 years old is yet to penetrate in rural areas. Hardly 6 lakh Box Type Solar Cookers are sold (but not used) in the country.
    In the power generation there must be comparison of cost between conventional power and Renewable Energy and between various Renewable Energy options like solar, wind, biomass, mini and micro hydel etc.
    If the contention is that Sunlight is available in most parts of the country for a long time in a year, there are other options like biofuel and conversion of biogas into power. Agave is a care ÔÇô free growth plant which can be grown in millions of hectares of waste land and which produces Biofuel. Already Mexico is using it. Another Care free growth plant is Opuntia which generates Biogas. Biogas can be input to generate power through Biogas Generators. Biogas generators of MW size are available from China. Yet another option is Water Hyacinth for biogas. Water Hyacinth along with animal dung can produce biogas on a large scale and then power. In Kolleru lake in Godavari and Krishna Delta in Andhra Pradesh it is available in 308 Sq. Km for nearly 8 months in a year.
    Crassulacean acid metabolism, also known as CAM photosynthesis, is a carbon fixationpathway that evolved in some plants as an adaptation to arid conditions In a plant using full CAM, the stomata in the leaves remain shut during the day to reduce evapotranspiration, but open at night to collect carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 is stored as the four-carbon acidmalate, and then used during photosynthesis during the day. The pre-collected CO2 is concentrated around the enzyme RuBisCO, increasing photosynthetic efficiency. Agave and Opuntia are the best CAM Plants.
    What is needed in an agrarian country like ours is AGRO INDUSTRIES to utilise local resources and resourcefulness as advocated by Mahatma Gandhiji.

    Solar panels have to be mounted facing south to harness more energy. Can the canals (already existing) are all south faced?
    Instead of big solar projects, roof top solar makes sense in India in view of high rise buildings coming up even in towns.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP)

    Posted by: Anonymous | 5 years ago | Reply
  • Sir, Dr.A.Jagadeesh the problem you mentioned in your last paragraph is really not meaningful. The direction of canal cant be a problem for solar panel mounting because, we can orient the face of solar panel as per requirement. And last but not least I want to mention that economy saved due to water saving and land saving(especially Delhi like state where land is costly and not easily available) is much more and wind is not available everywhere.

    Posted by: Sharique Afzal | 4 years ago | Reply