Floating Solar Photovoltaic (FSPV): An Alternative Way to Harness Solar Power

Floating Solar Photovoltaic (FSPV): An Alternative Way to Harness Solar Power


Sarvesh Devraj, Mohit Acharya

India’s progress in deploying renewable energy projects has been remarkable. Presently, it stands at third place in the Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index (RECAI). The cumulative installed capacity of renewable energy projects has reached 86 GW,  majority of which came from wind energy (44%) and solar PV (39%) installations. Out of all grid-connected solar PV installations, major capacity was taken over by ground-mounted solar PV (93%) and remaining is contributed by the rooftop-based solar PV projects. Favorable policies both at central and state government level have resulted in large scale project deployment, which further contributed to falling prices. The installation cost of solar power in the country at the utility-scale has dropped by 84% in the last eight years (2010-2018) making the country world’s topmost in terms of lowest installation cost in utility-scale solar PV segment.

On the other hand, challenges related to land procurements and its tedious procedures have been bottlenecks in solar power deployment in a quick manner. India has committed around 40% non-fossil-based power capacity by 2030 under its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) goals. Also, as per India’s National Solar mission, 60 GW grid-connected ground-based Solar PV has to be developed by the year 2022, which roughly requires around 850-1214 km2 (considering 3.5-5 acres/MW area) of land areas for installations. For a country like India to get such a huge chunk of the land area which could be used in other important activities, it would pose a further challenge in increasing the deployment of solar power projects. Hence, other alternatives to increase solar power deployment must be explored.

Floating solar PV (FSPV) or floatovoltaics is one such option, which is already gaining popularity in many parts of the world especially in Asia. Unlike the ground-mounted solar PV, in this PV panels are installed on the platform, which floats on the water surface, making it land-neutral. Additionally, there are other numerous benefits of FSPV like – high gain in energy production due to vicinity of water, reduction in water evaporation, possibility of sharing of the existing electrical infrastructure of hydroelectric projects, reduction in algae growth, lesser soling of the solar panels and a new source of revenue for water bodies owners, etc. FSPV as a concept is not new and the first FSPV project 20-kWp capacity in Aichi was installed in Japan back in the year 2007. Later in 2008, the first commercial-scale installation of capacity 175 kWp came up at Far Niente Winery, California, USA. The development of small-scale demonstration project goes on till 2013 and from early 2013 MW scale project started to appear in Japan and South Korea. In 2018, the biggest FSPV plant of 150 MW was installed in China. The FSPV sector is expected to grow strongly over the coming years. Till the year 2018, around 1.314 GWp of capacity has been installed globally and as per current trends, it is expected to reach 4.6 GWp by 2022. Presently, China is the leading international market followed by Japan and South Korea.

India also has very bright prospects to develop FSPV projects due to the availability of large water bodies. However, FSPV technology is at a very early stage in India. As of now a total of 2.72 MW FSPV capacity has been installed so far. In recent trends, interests in FSPV have been increased and reported tariffs are also declining very fast. Presently more than 1.7 GW capacity projects are under the development phase in the country. To understand the realizable state-wise potential of FSPV in the country, we have conducted a study, which has involved the assessment of inland water bodies (medium and large reservoirs) of India for estimating the potential. It is observed that about 18,000 km2 water surface area spreading across various states and Union Territories (UTs) is suitable for the installation of FSPV plants. The overall potential is a strong indication of the extent of the surface area than can be made available for setting up these projects, and even a capacity of about 280 GW is possible. The various factors determining the overall potential include a percentage of water surface area coverage, water level variations, the purpose of the water body, and proposed plant location.

Besides the huge available potential for FSPV in India, the FSPV technology is in the nascent stage of its developments in the country and there are lots of questions that have arisen regarding its long-term impact on the local environment and biodiversity. These questions must be examined thoroughly before rushing into large scale deployments of FSPV projects. Preparation of FSPV-specific standards and project development guidelines is the need of the hour and is of vital importance to reap the actual benefit of this technology without causing any negative impact on the local environment. In this initial stage, the focus must be on the viability of FSPV as a technology and not on the tariff. Hence monitoring of its performance and bringing it to the public domain must be encouraged. This can be achieved via following the priorities presented in the report and sharing the learnings among the stakeholders.

The authors Sarvesh Devraj and Mohit Acharya are Associate Fellows at The Energy Research Insitute (TERI), New Delhi, India