Availability of large chunks of contiguous land parcels and their acquisition is one of the key issues delaying commissioning timelines of solar power projects, with analysts and market players suggesting floating solar installations as one of the alternatives.

Besides conserving land, floating solar plants (FSPs) also improve efficiency of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules, while insulating water bodies from excessive evaporation.

In a February 2020 report, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) said that India’s reservoirs have 18,000 sq km of area, or roughly 1.8 million hectares, with a potential to generate 280 gigawatts solar power through FSPs.

Last month, NLC India CMD M Prasanna Kumar told businessline that the 500 GW non-fossil fuel capacity target for 2030 requires a lot of land, which is a scarce commodity. Here, FSPs can be the solution. Apart from conserving land, they reduce water evaporation by more than 40 per cent.

Land acquisition

ICRA VP & Sector Head (Corporate Ratings) Vikram V said that land requirement for a 1 MW capacity solar project is around 4-5 acres. For wind, it’s 2-3 acres for the turbine area and another 2-3 for the access area.

“Key issue is the delay in land acquisition. Even after the acquisition is done, sometimes they can come back and claim more compensation,” he added.

Serentica Renewables Director Pratik Agarwal explains that the success of any solar and wind project largely hinges on two factors – availability of land and transmission infra for evacuation.

“Solar energy requires contiguous land with optimal solar radiation levels. The need for a large land parcel, coupled with intricate approval procedures, can lead to delays. The entire land acquisition process requires state-specific procedures, complexities around ownership and involvement of various agencies and permits. Land for wind projects is even more challenging as good resource availability is limited to a few States,” he added.

Reverse auctions

Providing more perspective, Envision Wind Power Technologies India CEO RPV Prasad said the shift in 2017 from Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) regime to reverse auctions (competitive bidding) marked a pivotal moment in land acquisition. With Centre conducting project bidding through the Solar Energy Corporation of India and actual project implementation falling under the purview of individual States, the process of land acquisition became more complex.

Companies acquire suitable land for project development in States where projects are being done and power evacuation needs to be efficiently managed through the Central grid. Consequently, a considerable amount of friction emerged in bidding, land acquisition, handover and evacuation of power leading to substantial delays in commissioning projects, he added.

Cost constraints

However, such projects are costly compared to ground mounted ones due to higher capital requirement and maintenance costs. Typically, a 1-MW FSP requires around ₹6 crore compared to ₹4-5 crore for a ground mounted one.

ICRA’s Vikram pointed out that the cost of setting up FSP is higher, and this reflects in the tariffs of around ₹3.3-3.5 per unit seen in the States. The capital required for these projects is also higher.

For instance, last week state-run SJVN bagged the Omkareshwar (Madhya Pradesh) FSP at ₹3.79 per unit (against normal solar power tariffs of around ₹2.4-2.7 a unit).

NLCIL CMD said “The only issue is that FSPs are slightly costlier than ground mounted because of the floating material, but with increasing scale its cost is gradually coming down.”