Explained: Why Telangana’s floating solar plant is greener than ground-mounted ones

India’s largest floating solar power plant is now fully operational at Ramagondam in Bidapali district of Telangana. The 100MW floating solar PV project was commissioned by the National Thermal Power Corporation, the country’s first public sector power generators. As of July 1, after the plant was commissioned, the total commercial operation of floating solar in the southern region had risen to 217 megawatts, according to the NTPC.

According to an official statement, the 100MW floating solar power plant has been built on over 500 acres of NTPC Reservoir in Ramagondam at a cost of Rs 423 crore by Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited on an EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) contract. After transitioning fossil fuels to hydro, nuclear and renewable energy sources for power generation, NTPC has set a target to produce 60 gigawatts (GW) through renewables, which constitute approximately 45 percent of its total power generation capacity, by 2032.

What are floating solar power plants?

Solar power plants or solar farms can be installed either on the ground or on the surface of water bodies. Although these floating farms are a bit more expensive than conventional surface-mounted farms, there are advantages as well.

While not much land is available, floating farms do not require land for the installation of photovoltaic panels. It’s more efficient because having water underneath helps it keep cool. It also reduces water evaporation, thus providing more water for hydropower generation.

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How are these panels kept afloat?

At Ramagundam, the 500-acre solar modules are placed on floats made of high-density polyethylene that maintain buoyancy regardless of water level fluctuations. The total space is divided into 40 blocks, each with a capacity of 2.5 megawatts. Each of these blocks consists of a floating platform and an array of 11,200 solar modules. The floating platform consists of an inverter, transformer and high tension circuit breaker.

How is the project unique?

This project is unique in that all the electrical equipment from the inverter, transformer, and high pressure panel to supervisory control and data acquisition, is also set up on floating iron cement rigs. According to NTPC, the entire floating system is fixed by special high modulus polyethylene ropes on dead weights (concrete blocks) placed in the stabilizing tank layer. The generated power is discharged up to the current switching yard through 33 kV ground cables.

How does it help the environment?

Floating solar panels on the surface of the water will reduce the rate of evaporation and thus help conserve water. Also, with minimum land requirements, often for related eviction arrangements, available land can be better utilized unlike in the case of ground-mounted solar farms, which require large tracts of land.

In Ramagundam, approximately 32.5 cubic meters per year of water evaporation can be avoided. The water body below the solar modules helps maintain the ambient temperature, thus improving their efficiency and generation. Similarly, coal consumption of 1.65,000 tons per year can be avoided; Carbon dioxide emissions of 2,10,000 tons per year could be avoided, according to the NTPC.

future expansions

NTPC earlier announced the commercial operation of the 92MW floating solar power plant at Kayamkulam in Kerala and the 25MW floating solar power plant in Simhadri, Andhra Pradesh. Even at its Ramagondam reservoir, the public sector is currently using only about 500 acres of extension to generate 100 megawatts.

At present, NTPC Ramagundam has a conventional solar farm installed on the ground, spread over 50 acres along the national highway, and generates 10 megawatts of power. With land not readily available, an official said there is room for expansion to generate another 400 megawatts in the same reservoir. Meanwhile, the Telangana government has also learned to be keen on using floating solar farm technology in its many massive reservoirs to promote clean energy. The state and the National Transitional Council had held a round of talks earlier.

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