“Floating Solution Will Be One Of The Main Enablers For PV sector In India”

For French Solar Firm Ciel Et Terre, India was natural market  market once the country embarked on a strong solar push, not to mention the strong partnership with France at global for a like the International Solar Alliance. Through its India firm Ciel Terre India, the firm has been quietly working to educate developers and policy makers on the potential, and benefits of floating solar in India. Just 3 years in, the first results are finally flowing in, as its earliest project wins come online. We spoke to Deepak Ushadevi, Managing Director, Ciel Terre India, on the firms progress and plans ahead.

Q. Tell us about your current operations in India, in terms of size of the team, projects won, executed, and in the pipeline.

Mr. Deepak Ushadevi, Managing Director, Ciel Terre India

Mr. Deepak Ushadevi, Managing Director, Ciel Terre India

Ciel et Terre Solar Private Limited was established in 2018 as a subsidiary of Ciel & Terre International.

Specialist in the integration of photovoltaic systems, Ciel & Terre® (C&T) opened the doors to a new market: floating PV, driven by a global need to produce clean energy in a more efficient and land-saving way.

Our scope includes design, engineering, supply, and installation of floating solar technology.

We have a global workforce presence in 30 countries including 45+ staff from our HQ in Bangalore & 100+ staff at our manufacturing premises.

In 2019, our first project in India, a 452 KWp floating solar plant was installed in Cochin International Airport Limited. Following this, we completed a 5.4 MWp floating solar plant in West Bengal at Sagardighi Thermal Power Plant and a 14.7 MWp project in Thoothukudi for Southern Petrochemical Industries Corporation Limited, which is one of the largest floating solar power projects in India at present.

Currently, we are installing a mega 75MWp project in South India. (At An NTPC Reservoir Probably)

The Hydrelio floats are being produced at a 160 MWp/year production capacity factory by CIEL & TERRE INDIA in Kerala as part of the Make in India campaign.

This year Ciel Terre International launched a Global R&D centre in Bangalore for innovative engineering and new product development activities.

Q. As an ‘innovative’ solar option, floating solar is priced higher than utility-scale solar, and also faces some unique challenges. Tell us more about this aspect and the long-term trends as you see them.

As compared to ground mount ~ 10 % higher when it comes to floating solution. This may vary depending on the complexities of the project site and conditions. However, you need to consider the extra energy generation due to the cooling effect of the water on the panels. Although in demo trials, we see more than 10% extra generation, we could conservatively say that there is a 5-7% extra generation depending on the irradiation, wind, temperature of the water, size, and depth of the water bodies, etc.

spic ciel et terre

This extra generation may negate the delta difference between the Capex cost to a certain extent for sure.

In terms of commercials, installing a floating solar plant is indeed higher than a utility-scale solar. But, considering in the longer run, floating solar saves land space, which can be used for something beneficial in the line. Also, the ROI is higher as floating solar yields 5-7% better output due to the decreased temperature of the panels.

With scarcity in the land, land acquisition legal issues & disputes, infinite acquisition delays, floating solar is the perfect solution. We are very much positive that floating solar demand is finally arrived here in India considering water scarcity, water evaporation issues, land issues, and on a positive note plenty of water bodies available.

We believe floating solution will be one of the main enablers for the PV sector and we target 1GW Hydrelio solutions to be installed in the upcoming next 2-3 years in India.

Q. Ciel Et Terre recently crossed the 500 MW mark globally on installs. How has that journey been? What are the key changes the industry, and technology have witnessed since the firm started?

Ciel & Terre® has been distributing its technology and solution and has been developing floating PV plants for commercial, industrial, and local government institutions since 2011. As the floating solar pioneer and expert, we provide our solutions throughout the world through strategic partnerships.

Today, we indulged in 285+ floating PV projects in 30 countries, equivalent to 1.2 GW floating capacity using Hydrelio® technology.

Over the years, Ciel & Terre® has gained recognized expertise and strong experience in the installation of large-scale floating PV plants on artificial and freshwater reservoirs. Our team has a thorough understanding of floating PV’s challenges and can assist the client all along the project development process.

Our expertise encompasses feasibility study, engineering design (Hydrelio® and anchoring), supply of anchoring systems, installation, training, and supervision, and many more.

The Hydrelio® product line progressed with 3 products and was designed following regions’ and markets’ specificities. Our first design was Classic Hydrelio design, and later, Equatorial design and Air design.

  • Classic Hydrelio design with a Standard tilt of 12°, and easy operations and maintenance is its major feature.
  • Equatorial design with fixed-tilt 5° deg. Designed for equatorial adaptation, anchoring control, cost-effective transport solution, optimized for 4 in a row configuration.
  • Air Hydrelio design with 11° float with a racking system, extra ventilation, cost-effective transport solution as well.

All these products were tested to extreme Wind at ONETA French aerospace, for Wind Tunnel Testing and Computational Fluid Dynamics, Bending Fatigue tested at IFP EB,

UV corrosion test for 20+ years lifetime, Drinking water compliance with BS standards.

Additional testing on the HDPE & colorant control, DQP, Thickness control, Cooling Jig spec, dimension control, leak testing, etc has also been benchmarked in our design and innovation space.

Developed & largely deployed across over 30 countries, Hydrelio® technology is continuously optimized, thanks to our R&D efforts and are manufactured as per a strict quality process in any country.

Lab-tested and field-proven worldwide, Hydrelio® is recognized as the ‘standard’ in the floating PV industry and has successfully demonstrated its durability and bankability.

cial ctsp ciel et terre

Q. From smaller projects initially, today we see ambition and announcements for utility-scale solar floating solar too. How do you see that going? How do larger floating solar projects change perspectives for a developer? Cost, logistics, the impact of area geology wise?

CIEL & TERRE has been fully devoted to floating PV ever since and its unique expertise and track record makes the company become the most experienced group in ‘Floating PV’, especially, thanks to our ‘all[1]in-one’ solutions and high quality of services. CIEL & TERRE’s teams are trained to adapt and respond smartly to the various needs in floating solar worldwide, as the demand increases each year a little faster. Bankability, Reliability, Proximity, and Flexibility are the key factors that enable us.

The major difference is that, in other developed countries, the selection is purely based on the technology credentials, bankability, and reputation basis. Whereas in India, price is the main base.

Indian developers and EPCs should be extremely careful while selecting the technology.

To reduce risk factors, developers should look for enablers with good raw material, top-class UV stabilizers, good machines to produce quality floaters, QA checks & processes, design suits, design tests & validation, and getting a bankable solution.

Of late many countries have come forward with renewable energy policies that emphasize floating solar installation. India is one of the developing countries with plenty of available, unused water bodies. Hence Innovative engagements, lean engineering, selection of right components, design optimization, etc are driving a cost reduction program that will help reduce the Capex cost. Currently, we have successfully launched an onsite manufacturing factory in India for a mega project which reduces the logistic cost of our floats significantly.

We are investing in quality machines to deliver quality projects.

We constantly strive to improvise our technical knowledge, implementing Innovative product development programs, looking to accelerate lean engineering programs for compatible solutions, endeavouring a sustainable quality deliverable, streamline vendor development to lower the cost in a price-sensitive market. We would like to associate with high-quality projects with reputed agencies to deliver bankable solutions.

This constant drive for a cost-effective solution is something that developers are now paying attention to. Hence, developers are getting new prepositions to engage in floating projects. Adding to this Ciel & Terre’s unique master insurance program is enabling the developers’ investment into bankable solutions. This helps cover the entire plant, not just our floaters, in the form of civil insurance, since the lenders/banks have firm confidence in our technology, and in this way we are unparalleled. Indeed, the confidence comes from our credentials, track record, MFG capacity, and expertise.

Q. Ciel Et Terre recently completed a project in West Bengal, a state that has otherwise not been a high performer on solar. Mainly due to issues with land availability. Could floating solar be an option for such a region?

In a country like India with a large population, legal issues and land disputes, infinite acquisition delays, land availability issues, land scarcity due to irrigation requirement and infra structure development, and growing energy needs, floating solar turns out to be the perfect answer.

Already solar cost reduction continues to reduce further with main economic drivers in this sector like,

1) rising of PV modules production capacity,

2) Inverter and PV module efficiency

3) Cost of financing

4) accumulated know-how,

5) Economy of scale.

Contrary to the notion, West Bengal has now set an example and floated tenders for 2 more floating solar plants- for a 10MWP plant in Sagardighi Thermal Power Plant and a 5MW plant in Santaldih thermal power station.

We have studied a lot of projects in the past in West Bengal and figured their huge potential to develop floating solar projects. West Bengal has many types of water bodies, including dams, irrigation, or water treatment ponds which are ideal for floating projects. Same is the case of Kerala state where plenty of water bodies.

Q. What kind of tolerances do floating solar plants come with? Do plants in coastal areas susceptible to extreme events like say, Hurricanes, come with different specs?

Our country’s geography is so varied. Hence, before the start of any project, our team does a thorough study on the water level variation, wave analysis, topography, wind speed, etc. The projects should be designed after conducting a proper analysis, understand issues, probability of cyclones, rusting, moisture as these affect the plant performance.

Fundamental understanding is that design, adaption, anchoring technology will vary with location, and one cannot give a standard solution to all projects. It requires design evaluation with regards to the anchoring principles and site conditions. Bathymetric, SPT, Wind speed, Wave analysis, should be considered while making a design suit. Site visit before design craft and site surveys to undergo the bathymetry, soil composition analysis is a must.

WBPDCL floating solar plant

Q. Are we any closer to building floating solar plants at sea?

For compatibility and sustainability, floating solar plants require intensive R&D as the ocean is an unpredictable waterbody and the risk factors involved are high. Having said that, Ciel Terre Taiwan has commissioned 88 MWp Changbin: the world’s largest project on the sea a few months ago.

Ciel Terre International has collaborated with Principia, a leading offshore player to implement & integrate wind and wave design with cost-effective solutions.

Q. How much potential do you see in floating solar plants redeeming areas impacted by fossil fuel activity? Areas like Open-pit coal mines that have been flooded now, or fly ash ponds of thermal stations?

The 5.4 MWp plant in West Bengal is the world’s first floating solar plant set up in a thermal plant. The plant saves the water from evaporation, which can be used effectively in the cooling process during summers.

Waterbodies like flooded coal mine pits are a good option too as an unusable and ignored waterbody can be turned into an energy and money-generating source and all captive projects will benefit the industry from a competitive price compared to the grid & can replicate the same model on other industrial reservoirs such as steel, thermal, fertilizers, cement, chemical, etc. We should make the best use of these advantages that India has.

Q. How does Ciel et Terre see the market opportunity in India in terms of size ? How big a challenge is pricing power produced through floating solar?

India has huge untapped potential for floating solar, and this can be effectively envisaged with proper planning and the right vision. Considering that India is one of the largest populated countries with higher energy usage, India cannot depend on fossil fuels for a long time, hence renewable energy especially, floating solar is ideal for many reasons since with scarcity in land, land acquisition legal issues & disputes, infinite acquisition delays, the floating solar is the perfect solution. The demand for Floating solar has finally arrived in India considering water scarcity, water evaporation issues, land issues, and on positive note plenty of water bodies available. We could scale up to 2-3 GW in the next 3 years, and we are entrusted with that sort of capability.

We should also ensure to keep up with the international dedicated standard for floating solar plant design.

This standard must be defined based on field test results, analysis, and theoretical and empirical study.

The new standards must allow us to build safe FPV while doing viable and profitable investments.

This will also allow reassuring investors on the technologies.

When you talk about the challenge, The primary challenge is that the floating solar projects are for 25 years. Keeping the fundamental techniques intact, each site should have different designs depending on the topography of the area. There should not be a replication of the project.

With design optimization and lean engineering program, I believe we could sail through the price[1]sensitive Indian market without compromising on quality.

Q. Other than lakes or reservoirs, any other interesting locations that offer opportunities for floating solar as you see it? Do share some global examples if possible.

Hydrelio® technology is the perfect solution for many types of water bodies, including dams, quarry lakes, irrigation, or water-treatment ponds. Additionally, these 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.

Q. Could you please throw some light on how O&M costs for floating solar vary when compared to normal utility solar?

O&M cost is cheaper than a ground-mounted system, as there is less soiling due to the water around, plenty of water availability for cleaning. Conventional brush cleaning would be reducing the O&M expenses. During engineering design suite creation, moisture prevention of electrical equipment should be tended to. All Equipment’s need to be water-resistant and friendly with a moisture environment.

Q. Lastly, your website states: “At Ciel & Terre, we prefer not to study projects on natural interior water bodies, unless their existence is directly threatened by evaporation, which floating PV can help reduce.” Why is that?

We do not want to disturb the natural environment, the tourism sector, nor fiddle with the livelihood of fishermen as well.

Covering a pond with Hydrelio® floats means that less sunlight is available for algae to grow which reduces their proliferation. Since a significant part of the water body will be covered or shadowed by the floating PV plant, a reduction of evaporation is expected. But, since both light and heat are expected to decrease, a new balance for the reservoir’s aquatic life is required. Yet, we prefer utilizing artificial water bodies as there is a lesser impact on aquatic life.

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