Mishap At Omkareshwar Brings Forth Worries On Large Floating Solar Projects

Mishap At Omkareshwar Brings Forth Worries On Large Floating Solar Projects Jharkhand & Odisha set to feature among India's top 10 states with solar parks.

The pictures, and videos of the damage caused at India’s largest floating solar plant, at Omkareshwar in Madhya Pradesh, have brought forth a range of worries about the issues involved with floating solar, besides the best way to resolve them. The answer lies in better research and transparency about these projects., considered critical to regional renewable energy goals as well as larger national objectives.

With most industry experts not really willing to hazard a guess at this stage on the possible reasons, among the leading probable cause that has emerged so far is inadequate anchoring or mooring. That is certainly what Rahul Kanotra, Founder and Director at Invent Ocean believes as probable cause.  What is obvious is that the challenges that have delayed so many of the large floating solar plants, especially like those at Rihand Dam, Getulsud, Nangal etc, are still large enough to make developers go slow.

A couple of large developers we spoke to pointed out that besides technological challenges, the reverse auction methodology had not helped at all, as this being early days in large floating solar plants, many developers developed cold feet after bidding, or simply do not want to risk so much on relatively new technology. ” When prices are benchmarked to Rs 2.50/unit or thereabouts, when our costings were easily crossing Rs 3.70 and above, we didn’t see any logic in bidding aggressively to win these projects”, said a person involved with bidding for one of these projects. The Omkareshwar tender saw winning bids come in at the Rs 3.20- Rs 3.25 range finally.

Multiple agencies starting with SECI have had to call for repeated bids to find takers for these projects, and progress has still been slow, the Omkareshwar project, to its credit not only found bidders but also the successful completion of the first stage of installations, raising hopes that it would process smoothly. The current incident, even as it has damaged some modules, is being seen as a temporary setback, and the project is expected to be back on track soon by the project developer Narmada Hydroelectric Development Corporation (NHDC).

In the meantime, similar large projects like the planned 500 MW Bhadrawati dam project in West Bengal, which are also being funded by international multilateral agencies like the World Bank with stringent conditions face a stern test of meeting key requirements, especially linked to the local ecology. Questions have been raised on floating projects that cover a significant part of the water bodies they are installed on, in terms of their impact on the fish underneath, or even migratory birds. At Bhadrawati, the evaluation process is still on, but don’t be surprised to see issues linked to local fishery etc crop up there as well.

The solution has to be backed by science and quality research, and not just a rush to meet targets for installing renewable energy. In areas like East India, issues linked to land availability have brought floating solar to the forefront, but enough has not been done probably to understand the impact of local weather, or even the Floating solar plant’s own impact on the water bodies and their ecosystems. It’s a delicate balance that needs to be preserved, and deserves a lot more effort than what we have seen so far.

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Prasanna Singh

Prasanna has been a media professional for over 20 years. He is the Group Editor of Saur Energy International