January 17, 2015: As prime minister Narendra Modi has set a target of investing $100 billion in the production of solar energy and scaling up solar power to over 10% of its total energy mix by 2022, the country is looking to do this with the help of solar plants built atop canals. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has launched a canal-top solar energy plant in Vadodara, Gujarat on his recent visit to India. The experts feel that such solar power plants will enable using land in a more efficient manner with minimum cost and also reduce water evaporation from the channels underneath.
As a part of the prime minister’s target with regards to the production of solar power in India, the ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE) is already planning to produce 100MW of solar power from grid-connected solar photovoltaic (PV) power plants built on top of canals and on their banks by the end of the government’s current five year plan till 2017. The construction of these canal-top solar plants will require an estimated cost of $154 million. Taking a step towards the same, the ministry will provide a subsidy of 30 per cent of the estimated amount.
The solar power plant on the outskirts of Vadodara city, which began generating power in November 2014, has a capacity of 10 MW and is built across 3.6 km of irrigation canal, and has 33,800 solar panels mounted on steel scaffolding. This plant is connected to the state grid and its output targets to meet the demand from the pumping stations used for irrigation. On a day blessed with abundant sunshine, the plant can generate upto 50,000 units of electricity.
But canal-top solar power plants can also have environmental challenges to face. The PV panels, which are usually mounted in a way that they face southwards for optimal performance, might have to face a hindrance with regards to the fact that a canal might also curve and change its direction. Using only north-south stretches of water could limit the scale of canal-top plants. Besides, there might be potential environmental impacts of canal-top plants on their surroundings, as the risks remain unclear. Canal water, for example, could be contaminated by chemicals used on the plant’s scaffolding for maintenance.