Solar energy has been found to be of immense use to mankind. Can you imagine a day or two if the sun does not shine? Isn’t it so depressing? Not only for our general well being, but solar energy is being immensely used for our huge growing power needs. Solar has found a large number of applications as the technology advances. Other than the many solar products available in the market today, the social impact of solar has increased manifold. For example, mini solar grids powering many rural parts of the world. Another growing application is in Solar Desalination of Water.

Solar Desalination is the technique to desalinate water using solar technology. The major advantage of using solar is that it is not only free but also environment-friendly. Solar energy is one of the most primitive ways used to desalinate water. It was used earlier to produce salt rather than drinking water. There are two types of Solar Desalination: i) Direct and ii) Indirect.

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Image Credit: RE World

The demand for freshwater keeps multiplying with an ever-increasing growth in population, and the problem of scarcity of fresh drinking water is very grave. Many parts of the world still have no access to pure drinking water. According to statistics, at least 40% of the world’s population live without drinking water. As a result, people try and convert the available seawater into a usable form. However, desalination is a very power intensive process. Many countries desalinate seawater using fossil fuels which in turn leads to air pollution. It will be good for the environment if instead of using harmful fossil fuels, renewable sources of energy like solar could be used for the process.

Could you imagine the amount of power that is being used by the thousands of operating desalination plants in the world? If solar energy could be used at a large scale to power these plants, a large amount of carbon emissions could be prevented.

The cost of deploying solar energy at desalination plants is currently high. However, favorable policies could support its adoption, just like the way solar has been largely embraced by the world in the power industry. It has been found that CSP (concentrating solar power) is best suited for solar desalination process. There are three important components to be used – CSP, thermal energy storage and reverse osmosis.

One of the major concerns with solar power is its intermittency issue. Imagine what will happen to a plant running 100% on solar energy in the event of a cloudy day or at night time. If the plant keeps on turning off or on a layer of salt deposits on its membranes which further disturbs its efficient working. As a result, solar storage is an important component of this entire process. Reverse osmosis is favored because it is cost effective.

Solar energy seems to be a good option for desalination plants given growing energy costs, rising population and depleting water sources.

Large-scale Solar Plants in Australia

Australia has been seeing high power prices for a long time due to the oligopoly nature of the power sector. However, the advent of cheap solar energy has started to upend the power market as entrepreneurs set up large solar power plants to compete with the high priced gas and thermal power plants.

While Australia has already become a solar success with almost 20% of households using solar power, large-scale solar plants had been slow to come up. But now a number of developers and utilities are setting up these plants along with storage facilities to directly go head to head with the fossil fuel generators. These companies think that their price can compete better with the existing setup.

Read more about the Solar industry in Australia.

Frameless solar panels

Germany Innogy which is a subsidiary of the utility giant RWE is setting up two large solar plants of 347 MW and 115 MW in New South Wales which will get commissioned in 2020. These two plants do not have PPAs in place and RWE is confident in building these plants at a low enough price that they will be able to sell power in the wholesale market. Solar power plants have become so cheap that they are able to effectively work as merchant power plants.

Also, read South Australia could be 100% Renewable Energy Powered by 2025

New South Wales has sanctioned 10 solar power plants with a combined capacity of 1.2 GW. With these plants getting finished, the province will see a substantial amount of its power needs being met by renewable energy.

Floating solar plants in West Bengal

Did you know that the eastern state of West Bengal is a pioneer in solar technology in India? Yes, WB government-owned WEBEL was one of the first manufacturers of solar energy panels in the country. However, the state failed to gather the required momentum around solar technology afterward. Even as other states move ahead on the solar ladder, West Bengal has always stayed behind in the renewable energy adoption. The lack of a good solar policy, stable supply of power and fair state of industrial development in the state has led to a stunted growth.

However, situations look to brighten up as the WB state looks at installing two floating solar plants with generating capacities of 5 MW and 100 MW respectively in Sagardighi and Mukutmanipur areas. The state wants to utilize raw water ponds at the thermal power plants to install these floating solar plants. The industrial demand in West Bengal has picked up the pace, increasing by more than 27% over the last seven years. Given a rise in the industrial power demand in the state, West Bengal should benefit from these floating solar power plants. The state has rich water body resources which can be easily utilized for installing floating solar power plants. The state had witnessed the installation of the country’s first 10kW floating solar panel technology, which was installed by Vikram Solar in Kolkata back in 2014.

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These plants are expected to be commissioned by the next year. The cost of installing the floating plant would come around INR 5 crores, but the cost reduces with an increase in the generating capacity. Presently, there are losses at the state-owned power plants, which stands at roughly 28%. The state is also looking at thermal generation but it is trying to reduce consequences by implementing newer technology to keep carbon emission under check.

Though the floating solar plants or “floatovolataics” are getting more popular in India owing to land paucity, they do involve a higher maintenance and installation cost. However, they are regarded as a better alternative to land because they can be built on industrial water bodies like wastewater treatment plants, cooling facilities in factories and power plants etc.

You might also want to Take A Look At These Floating Solar Homes!

India Solar addition in Q2 2018

India installed a whopping 1,372 MW of solar energy in the recent April-June quarter. This marked the fourth consecutive quarter where the solar capacity addition was more than thermal power capacity addition. A total capacity of 2.2 GW was added across India during this time, of which solar accounted for more than 60%. The country has been witnessing a gradual shift towards solar and the coal share is shrinking. The net capacity addition in the coal sector has been just 2.4 GW over the last four quarters, retiring 1.8 GW in the last year. The same momentum was not seen in the wind energy sector. The pace has slowed down after the introduction of competitive reverse auction bidding in this sector. However, the sector is expected to catch up to its peer in the coming quarters.

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Though the country is making a good progress in the solar energy sector, industry experts fear that India might not touch the 100 GW mark by 2022. They say that India would be close at 78-80 GW in that time frame. The imposition of safeguard duty is being blamed for the stalled growth. The safeguard duty would increase capital costs by 15-20%, and raise bid tariffs by another 30-40 paise per unit. Many leading developers are also wary of bearing the extra cost on account of these duties and might withdraw from the existing projects. Though Crisil still expects an additional solar capacity addition of 56-58 GW during 2019-2023. Poor growth in the rooftop solar sector is also a sore point in the Indian solar market. According to Crisil, India will install a total of just 8 GW of rooftop solar capacity compared to the estimated 40 GW by 2023.

The director of Crisil Research opines that “The government must be live with the outcome of bid price; it should go ahead with these projects even if tariffs are higher than what they like”.

Source: Mint

India has one of the lowest solar prices in the world. The country should try hard to build up and maintain the pace of growth, as solar will remain one of the major sources of energy in the future.

Dholera Solar Park

Gujarat is once again poised to set a record in terms of solar installations. The state which once trailblazed solar energy growth in India has now moved down in ranking owing to massive jumps made by the Indian states of Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

The state has now announced building a 5 GW Solar park in the special economic one of Dholera which is close to 80 km from the capital Ahmedabad. Once built the Dholera Solar Park will be the largest project not only in India but also in the world. A 200 MW wind park will also be built nearby.

File photo of workers cleaning photovoltaic panels inside a solar power plant in Gujarat

The park is estimated to cost about INR 25,000 crores, and will create employment opportunities for about 20, 000 people. These large plants will be best positioned to take advantage of the large gigawatt-sized solar tenders in India. They will not only go a long way to help address the power conditions but will also help in achieving India’s solar target and ‘Make in India’ dream.

The site is best suited for the construction of the plant as it receives ample amount of sunlight and has sufficient land availability. Since the plant will be built on a special economic zone, there will be no need for free land acquisition. The Dholera Solar park has caught the attention of a large number of solar developers and manufacturers. The developers will be selected through bidding as per the guidelines of the government. Land and infrastructure will be provided to manufacturers who are interested in manufacturing solar cells, panels, storage units. smart grid solutions etc.

The power generated by the plant could be also used to power Smart City Dholera SIR, which is the first smart city of India. Dholera is the first city in India, and probably in the world, to receive Platinum rating. Gujarat, a power surplus state, is currently facing a power crisis amidst Mundra thermal power plants woes. The coal plants are suffering from underutilization and low tariffs, amid increasing cost of imported coal. The state is now depending on central sources for power as its own power production is not sufficient to meet demand. In such crisis situation, this power plant comes as a sign of relief to the sun-scorched lands of Gujarat.

The Ongoing Debate Around Safeguard Duty Imposition on Imported Solar Panels

The India Solar Industry is in a state of dilemma, with the government exempting imported solar panels from customs duty on the one hand, while thinking about imposing safeguard duties on the other.

The Indian Solar Manufacturers Association (ISMA) has proposed imposition of 70% safeguard duties on imports of solar cells and modules to the Commerce ministry. ISMA which consists of leading domestic solar companies like Adani Group, Vikram Solar, and Tata Power, are proposing these duties in order to protect the Indian solar manufacturers and thus giving a boost to the government’s “Make in India” policy.

The progress of solar development could be hampered if such duties are imposed as India is a price sensitive market (as imported solar cells and modules will get expensive if these duties are imposed). As a result, developers would be reluctant in buying imported solar products and end up buying the domestically manufactured solar cells and modules.

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But there are few questions which the government needs to consider before making a final decision:

  • The solar tariff in India is the lowest worldwide, if the cost component increases (with the duty imposition), the solar business might become less lucrative for the developers.
  • Are domestically manufactured solar products competitive enough?
  • Will these duties benefit only a handful few at the cost of masses?
  • Has India achieved the technical competence and efficiency results as their large Chinese counterparts like Jinko and Trina Solar?

India has just achieved one-fifth of its full solar installation target last year. That means the country will have to ramp up its solar activities in the coming four-five years. The solar developers think the country still needs a few more years to become completely import free. The Tier 1 Chinese solar products are not only price competitive but also of superior quality. The Indian solar manufacturers, except for a handful few, have failed to exude the technical competence and manufacturing muscle as their western counterparts.

However, with all that said, I also believe that having a safeguard duty in place will definitely give an incentive for encouraging domestic solar manufacturing. Though it would pinch the Indian solar developers initially, it would encourage production in the long run. The cost of setting up a solar plant is now cheaper than installing a thermal power plant in most parts of the world. Having a safeguard duty in India will encourage domestic players to set up solar manufacturing plants in India. Many countries including China have protectionist policies in place to save their domestic manufacturing.

Another benefit from duty imposition would be safeguarding India from flooding with relatively poor quality imported solar cells and panels. Imposition of safeguard duty should not be considered on a standalone basis, instead, the government should also impose proper BIS requirements for quality checks and controls on domestically manufactured solar products along with getting technically superior quality products manufactured.

India is laying the foundation of a solar nation and all we want is the foundation to be strong!