The Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI), set up primarily to facilitate the growth of solar power, is going ahead with plans to become a renewable energy developer itself. After having set up a solar project in Rajasthan, it will soon embark on two projects: a 300-MW hybrid project, comprising both solar and wind energy in Andhra Pradesh, and floating solar plants across Kerala (10 MW), Andhra Pradesh (10 MW) and Lakshadweep Islands (5MW).
"We have asked the World Bank to finance 50% of the project cost or about $200 million," said Ashvini Kumar, Managing Director of SECI. "We will put in the rest of the money ourselves. We have got approval from the Department of Economic Affairs (CEA), which has taken up the matter with the World Bank." There are few hybrid and floating solar projects in the country. Both are innovations intended to save on land use since every megawatt of installed photovoltaic solar requires about 5-6 acres.
In hybrid projects, solar panels are mounted in the space between wind turbines, while in floating projects, solar plants are set up on lakes or tanks. India's first floating plant, a pilot effort of 10 kW (0.01 MW) built by Arka-Ignou Community College of Renewable Energy, has already been commissioned at Rajarhat New Town near Kolkata. Another 100 kW one is being built on Loktak Lake in Manipur.
"Floating solar plants are a somewhat fanciful idea in the Indian context," said Vinay Rustagi, Managing Director of solar consulting firm BRIDGE TO INDIA. "They are very costly with capex up to 2-3 times the normal solar projects and debatable benefits. Operational challenges are also a big issue and so far, we simply do not have enough supporting evidence to make a strong business case for floating solar plants." "We realise there are challenges. But there is a real need to do this, because there isn't sufficient land available in these areas," said Kumar. Set up in 2011, SECI's focus so far had been on holding auctions and promoting projects under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, managing solar parks and channeling subsidy for developers.