Sunday, December 29, 2013

India innovating with solar PV, poised to become a global solar leader

Yesterday I saw an image shared on my Facebook timeline. It was of solar PV panels installed over an irrigation canal in India. This has the obvious advantage of a double impact for sustainability. Low carbon power is generated by the panels feeding into the transmission grid, and the panels shade the water in the irrigation canal reducing evaporation loss thus saving a scarce resource used for drinking and agriculture.

I googled for more information and posted the image in a tweet. This has become one of my most popular tweets to date, obviously striking a responsive nerve.

Climate change is one of those complex problems that requires us to think laterally. While pain will inevitably be involved in changing behaviours in reducing carbon emissions, we also need to come up with innovative ways to address the problems of low carbon energy generation, minimal impact on existing land use and conserving water - such as this ingenuous example of dealing with two sustainability problems.

I Googled what news was available to describe the context for the image and found a cleantechnica article from August 2013. The image I used in my tweet comes originally from Greenpeace International from March 2013 and is from the Indian state of Gujarat.

I found out the that first stage of 1MW of solar panel cover over 750metres of canal was completed near Kadi taluka of Mehsana, and was commissioned in April 2013. A further 10MW generation is being planned which will cover approximately 10 km on the on Sardar Sarovar canal which supplies water to the arid regions of Saurashtra and Kutch.

"The 1-MW canal-top project, which became operational last year, has been highly successful. We plan to replicate the success with a bigger, 10-MW project, on the Narmada canal," state energy minister Saurabh Patel said.

As land use is at a premium, placing solar panels above canals, reduces the need to acquire land, which can be substantial cost of utility size solar PV projects, but this is balanced by the framework cost of installing the panels using the canal banks for support.

Gujarat has a canal network approximately 19,000 km-long providing substantial capacity to expand solar PV generation above the canal netork. If only 10 per cent of the existing canal network is used, it is estimated that 2,200 MW of solar power generating capacity can be installed by covering the canals with solar panels, according to a April 2012 Hindu online article.

In February 2013 in eastern India the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) also decided to set up a 15 MW canal-top solar photovoltaic project in Burdwan district of West Bengal. There is also a project plan to expand the solar capacities to 1,000 MW. Some of the canals are located near coal-fired power stations with more air pollution and ash which would lower efficiency and increase maintenaince on any solar panels installed.

It will be interesting to watch for further developments of Canal solar Power Project (Wikipedia) in India. Perhaps it should also be taken up in other regions needing to limit water evaporation in warm climates with high solar insolation like California or Goulburn Valley and Riverina in South East Australia.

World Bank: India Poised to be a Global Leader in the Development of Solar Power

India still has 300 million people without access to energy and produces 70 per cent of electricity from coal fired power. A new report by the World Bank - Paving the Way for a Transformational Future: Lessons from JNNSM Phase 1 - highlights that India is poised to play a major global role in development of solar power. The country has excellent solar insolation to maximise solar generation and it is an industrial low cost destination for solar manufacture.

India made a voluntary commitment at the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009 to reduce the emissions per unit of its GDP by 20-25 percent by 2020 over 2005 levels. India is currently the world's seventh largest emitter of global warming pollution and fifth largest for emissions from fossil fuel combustion.

The report outlines:

As one of the eight missions under India's National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC), the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) was launched in January 2010 with the aim of accelerating India's march toward grid parity in solar power. JNNSM envisages the achievement of grid parity through long-term and predictable policy, large-scale deployment, aggressive Research and Development (R&D), and domestic production of critical materials, components, and products along the value chain. Considering that India is blessed with immense solar potential, JNNSM can serve as a crucial element of India's response to the challenges of energy security and climate change.

Already the solar mission, over a span of three years, has boosted total installed capacity of solar power from around 30 MW to more than 2,000 MW. JNNSM has contributed around 500 MW of that, with State funded projects also contributing.

An overall objective of JNNSM's is to position India as a major power in solar manufacturing and R&D. It has a target of 20 gigawatt (GW) installed capacity by
2022, but hopes to also drive local solar manufacturing and development capacity.

Starting from a negligible base, the total grid-connected solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity base of the country had reached 2,079 megawatt (MW) by the end of September 2013 and the majority of Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) additions (around 500 MW) are also likely to happen by 2014.

But the initial development and roll out has come with several challenges and bottlenecks identified. This includes lack of funding by the Commercial banking sector. Perhaps the commercial banks are still too caught up ith financing coal plants.

There is also inadequate solar infrastructure; lack of raw materials for several solar PV manufacturers; and an underdeveloped supply chain leading to high inventory costs.

"Building on the success of Phase 1, the program now needs to focus on promoting financing of solar projects by commercial banks, developing shared infrastructure facilities such as solar parks and identifying comparative advantage of Indian manufacturing across the supply chain", said Ashish Khanna, lead energy specialist and one of the authors of the report in a World Bank media release.

While both solar PV and Concentrating Solar Thermal (CSP) projects were funded, CSP projects entail more difficult and expensive manufacturing issues. "Solar thermal with less than 2.5 GW of installations globally is, however, far from commercially viable compared with solar PV with over 100 GW of installed capacity globally." says the report.

The report compares Solar PV and Solar thermal technologies:

Solar thermal has suffered globally through comparison with solar PV, the latter experiencing exponential growth between 2004 and 2009 due to the demand from rooftop solar programs in Japan and Germany, followed by a dramatic decline in prices thereafter. Since 2009, solar PV has seen a consistent decline in polysilicon and module prices due to substantial over-capacities across the manufacturing value chain and the emergence of large-scale, integrated and low-cost suppliers in China.

Solar thermal, on the other hand, has not reached a level where scale and competition can affect price reductions. CSP technologies are, at best, at the initial stages of commercialization with the dominance of a few suppliers who also own significant parts of the supply chain, restraining competition.

At the moment CSP technology being developed and used in the USA and Spain is essentially public funded through financial subsidies, with more development required for commercialisation.

The report recommends publicly developed infrastructure such as solar parks to help increase efficiency and lower costs. A Solar park in Charanka (Patan district) in Gujarat is today the largest solar park in Asia.

One of the implications for India developing it's solar industry for grid transmission and stand alone use, is that it provides energy resilience and an opportunity to reduce coal use. Solar manufacturing could provide thousands of jobs with good possibilities for global export.

Like in China, the health impacts of coal use and air pollution are a growing concern. A recent Greenpeace study - Coal Kills: An Assessment of Death and Disease caused by India's Dirtiest Energy Source (PDF) - found that "in 2011-2012, emissions from Indian coal plants resulted in 80,000 to 115,000 premature deaths and more than 20 million asthma cases fromexposure to total PM10 pollution".

Coal produces 70 per cent of India's electricity and with energy demand remaining strong, the movement away from coal use will be slow. Solar Innovation will assist this transition.

Over time this may result in reduced demand for imported coal which would add to the risk of stranded assets with Australia's coal expansion.