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Canal Top Solar PV Plant in Gujarat: A Unique Nexus of Energy, Land and
Water

Article · August 2016

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RE Feature

Canal Top Solar PV Plant in Gujarat


A Unique Nexus of Energy, Land, and Water
The state of Gujarat has made great strides in harnessing
the tremendous potential of solar energy through the path-
breaking concept of installing solar photovoltaic panels on
canal top to generate environment-friendly power. Through this
article, Om Shukla, Dr Sagarkumar M Agravat, Bela B Jani,
Narayani Srivastava, and Gurdeep Singh, describe in detail
the conception, implementation, and methodology behind this
canal top solar PV plant in Gujarat.

I
ndia, a country with an ever- Authority of India, the average 70 per cent of the country’s electricity
increasing population (over 1.2 requirement of energy per capita in is generated from fossil fuels, but
billion as per Census 2015) and India is 1,010 kWh. Despite the fact as per the draft National Renewable
need for energy is faced with the that the per capita energy demand Energy Act, the government has a
enormous challenge to produce is the lowest in the world, there is target 175 GW through renewable
energy with efficient utilization of a substantial need to increase the resources by 2022. The proposed
available resources. In this context, energy generation as India is emerging act also takes into account the
the state of Gujarat came up with an as one of the leading manufacturing provisions of the Electricity Act, 2003,
innovative and cost-effective solution nations in the world. India recognizes Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation
to utilize the existing irrigation canals the need for producing clean energy and Resettlement Act, 2013, and
to mount and produce solar energy. and for this reason, several policies Environment Protection Act, 1986,
According to the Central Electricity have been enforced. Currently, over to address the issues of environment

20 | Akshay Urja | August 2016


Canal Top Solar PV Plant in Gujarat

protection and rehabilitation due to


renewable energy installations.
It is for this reason that renewable
energy utilization, particularly solar
energy, is being enthusiastically
enforced in India. However, land
is a precious commodity for India.
Justifying the use of land to set up
solar plants, which can be used
for habitation, cultivation, and
manufacturing, is a tough proposition.
India has aggressive target to achieve
100 GW of installed capacity of solar
PV plant by the year 2022. If all the
plants are installed at one place,
the land occupied shall be 1.5 times
Picture 1: World’s first demonstration of canal top solar PV plant at Chandrasan, Gujarat
more than that of the state of Delhi.
A key challenge under Smart City large structures was also a major
A key challenge under
Programme is to generate solar practical concern for manufacturing.
energy from barren landmass or The mounting structure also created smart city programme is
through rooftops, a requirement a region of high air flow below it, to generate solar energy
which is difficult to accommodate in similar to a wind tunnel. To reduce from barren landmass
metropolitan and other large cities. the chances of damage to the
or through rooftops, a
Taking into account the country’s structure owing to high wind speeds,
large irrigation canal network, the the concept of a wind breaker was requirement which is
Government of Gujarat put forth the introduced. This significantly reduces difficult to accommodate
concept of construction of solar PV the wind speed, thus preventing in metropolitan and other
plant on canal top and created the damage to the structure.
large cities.Taking into
first pilot demonstration project near
Sanand, Gujarat, in 2012 (Picture 1). Superior Performance account the country’s large
Solar cells give out a lower voltage
irrigation canal network,
Engineering Marvel output when they are subjected to the government of Gujarat
Constructing large structures without heating. Typically, this results in solar put forth the concept of
damaging the canal and its function PV plants losing 10–15 per cent of construction of solar PV plant
became a challenging task. The the available energy on an annual
average basis. These losses result in
on canal top and created
width of the canal bed was about
4 m and the canal bank was over the loss of final power of up to 8 per the first pilot demonstration
6 m wide. However, to provide an cent annually. It was observed that project near Sanand, Gujarat,
exemplary structure design, which the solar cells mounted on the canal in 2012.
could be easily replicated in the top were cooler than their land-based
future, a structure of 16 m width was counterparts. This resulted in the cells
designed so as to fit on any large with an average temperature which mounted PV panels, the power output
canal. The manufacturing of the was cooler by 10 per cent. Due to this, decreases by 1 per cent on a flat basis
structure also posed several problems. the energy generated by the plant was for the first 10 years. Contrary to this,
Construction of a structure in the significantly higher than a ground- a recent study conducted by Gujarat
middle of the flow path of the canal mounted solar PV plant. The plant Energy Research and Management
would have obstructed the flow of has offered capacity utilization factor Institute (GERMI) establishes stable
water significantly. Thus, the structure (CUF) of around 17.71 per cent which generation even after three and
was designed with only end supports. is almost constant since its inception. a half years of sunlight exposure
Although this design increased the In addition, the canal mounted and continuous operation. This is a
cost of the project, it resulted in a solar plant also had lower panel significant feat which would allow the
design which could be replicated in degradation as compared to a canal mounted solar panels to have a
the future for canals facing water traditional ground mounted solar life expectancy beyond 25 years.
flow problems. Galvanization of the panel system. Typically for ground It, thus, becomes evidently clear that

August 2016 | Akshay Urja | 21


RE Feature

The water in the canals gives rise


to algae growth due to abundant
sunlight and moisture. Algae block
and clog the irrigation and water
pumps and spoil the quality of water.
Thus, due to the fitment of solar
PV panels and absence of sunlight,
algae growth is drastically minimized.
This helps in lowering the cost of
maintenance and extends the life of
irrigation equipment. Furthermore,
the solar panels can provide electricity
to the irrigation pumps. Since the
pumps are often located at remote
locations, this would also solve the
issue of transmission of electricity
as well as strengthen the grid. This
way, the canal top becomes the best
administrative model for community-
with the use of a canal mounted solar water supply, it becomes an issue of
scale solar powered water pumping/
PV plant—long-term financial benefits pivotal importance. The solar panels
village electrification programme.
are possible. This, in turn, would allow mounted on the canal top block the
Solar pumps no longer need to be
allocation of more resources for radiation of the sun, thus helping to installed in isolation since they are
setting up similar projects. keep the water in shade. This reduces susceptible to theft, mishandling, poor
the evaporation of the water in the maintenance, etc. Canal top offers
Saving of Resources canal. According to conservative better administrative model. The
With the increasing population estimates, a 1 MW plant can save 9 authors believe that canal top solar PV
also comes the need to address million litres of water per year. As project has a very big role to play in
the problem of water security. the area covered by the solar panels the Smart City Programme, National
For a country relying primarily on increases, a large quantity of water Solar Mission, and greater use of
monsoon to deliver the annual is saved. irrigation pumps. Another advantage
Typically for ground mounted
PV panels, the power output
decreases by 1 per cent on
a flat basis for the first 10
years. Contrary to this, a
recent study conducted by
Gujarat Energy Research
and Management Institute
(GERMI) establishes stable
generation even after three
and a half years of sunlight
exposure and continuous
operation. This is a significant
feat which would allow the
canal mounted solar panels
to have a life expectancy
beyond 25 years.
Picture 2: 10 MW canal top solar PV plant in Vadodara City, Gujarat

22 | Akshay Urja | August 2016


Canal Top Solar PV Plant in Gujarat

Since the pumps are often of electricity, thus enabling urban exists a canal network of 80,000 km.
located at remote locations, and rural settlements to generate As per the estimation of the Gujarat
their own power. The generation at State Electricity Corporation Limited
this would also solve the remote consumption centres would (GSECL), even if 30 per cent of this
issue of transmission also enable the strengthening of the canal network is used for solar PV
of electricity as well as grid which in turn would improve the plant installation, it can generate up
strengthen the grid. This way, reliability of the power being supplied. to 18,000 MW of power and a saving
In addition, a lot of intangible of 90,000 acres of land. Similar large
the canal top becomes the
gains are also possible with the canal networks exist across the entire
best administrative model implementation of the project. country, ensuring a cost effective and
for community-scale solar Furthermore, there has been no smart model for generating energy.
powered water pumping/ disturbance to the ecology and Many other canal top plants have
village electrification habitation of the area near the canal been set up in India itself—a 10 MW
as well as the flora and fauna. The plant has been replicated in the city of
programme. Solar pumps
project has offered employment Vadodara in Gujarat (Picture 2), a 1 MW
no longer need to be opportunities to rural and urban plant has been set up in Karnataka,
installed in isolation since workers, working in both skilled and and a canal top plant has also been
they are susceptible to unskilled jobs on the site. Working on added in Andhra Pradesh.
the operation and maintenance of the It is pertinent to note at this
theft, mishandling, poor
plant would also help in generating juncture that similar canal networks
maintenance, etc. Canal top interest and in turn, earning more exist throughout the world. Also, the
offers better administrative projects in the future. possibilities to further implement
model. The authors believe this idea are endless. Recognizing its
that canal top solar PV Replication importance, the Government of India
has prepared the policy for absorbing
project has a very big role The canal top power plant presents
an amazing potential for replication. 100 MW of capacity addition through
to play in the smart city canal top solar projects. The first
The project is easy to begin as
programme, national solar very few approvals/clearances pilot project demonstrated by the
mission, and greater use of are required. Further, it offers a GSECL received the prestigious Prime
irrigation pumps. faster implementation period as Minister’s Award for Best Project in
no land acquisition/development Public Administration for the year 2015.
is required. Since irrigation canals
of the canal top solar power plant is
exist throughout India, it provides a Conclusion
that the energy generation is closer
fairly simple and economically viable The canal top solar power plant is an
to the point of consumption. This model for replication. In Gujarat innovative idea that efficiently utilizes
results in the minimization of the alone, where the pilot project is land and conserves water. It provides
transmission and distribution losses successfully implemented, there a better administrative model for
smart village, smart city, and irrigation
projects. Further, it can be developed
under the public private partnership
(PPP) mode. With declining cost
trends, canal top projects are
expected to acquire a larger share of
national solar targets. Large capacity
canal top solar parks may offer faster
and more economical deployment of
solar power projects in India.
Mr Om Shukla, Dr Sagarkumar M Agravat
(Email: sagar.a@germi.res.in), and Ms Narayani
Srivastava are at the Gujarat Energy Research &
Management Institute (GERMI), Gandhinagar,
Gujarat. Ms Bela B Jani and Mr Gurdeep Singh
are at the Gujarat State Electricity Corporation
Limited, Vadodara, Gujarat, India.

August 2016 | Akshay Urja | 23

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