Solar power is a wonderful thing. It costs next to nothing to produce, requires little maintenance and its raw material is never-ending. Apart from the big oil mafia, the only thing that could hinder the generation of solar power at massive scales is the unavailability of large parcels of flat land to install solar panels, like it is the case with Kerala which is at a disadvantage in this matter, compared to, say, Tamil Nadu or Rajasthan. To solve this problem, one would need to think out of the box and go about adopting unconventional methods of utilising flat surfaces to harness solar energy, like powering an airport or a boat or installing floating solar panels in the water, because regular, boring solar energy stations on the ground are too mainstream.
A reservoir is just a lot of water sitting around and doing nothing, with a massive, flat surface, and hence is popular across the world as an ideal place for solar energy generation. Kerala followed this lead and just installed a 6000 square meter mammoth floating solar power plant on the waters of the Banasura Sagar Dam near Kalpetta, Wayanad district. With 500 kilowatts peak (kWp) capacity and production capability of 750,000 units (kWh) of electricity a year, this is also India’s largest floating solar power plant! The panels will float on hollow Ferro cement blocks, and the DC electricity generated by the panels will be transmitted by underwater cable to a floating substation, from where 3-phase AC electricity will be directly fed to the KSEB grid. The highlight of the project is that it was completed at a measly, dirt-cheap sum of just Rs.9.25 crore, which makes it cheaper than a lot of houses built by rich NRIs in the state. Commissioned by the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) and built by AdTech Systems, this is the latest phase of the project which started with 10 kW and then was stepped up to 400 kW and now 500kW installed capacity. Most components were created and installed by Kerala-based companies, making it a sterling example of Make in India. If they were to sell that electricity at just Rs.5 per unit, they would’ve recovered all the construction and operating expenses and made a nice profit as well!
The world’s largest floating solar power plant is located in China (where else) with a massive 40 MW installed capacity. The previous largest floating solar plant in India was also in Kerala, commissioned by NTPC in Kayamkulam.
Image courtesy: Regen Power
Kerala has one of the lowest installed solar power generation capacity and to catch up, the Kerala government has set an ambitious target of generating 500 MW of electricity from solar energy by the end of 2017 and 2500 MW by 2030, and the Banasurasagar project is the second large achievement in renewable energy applications. In April 2017, Kerala made global headlines when its premier international airport at Ernakulam, Kochi, (CIAL) went to become the world’s first international airport to run entirely on solar power. Among the smaller and lesser publicised achievements was “Aditya“, the solar-powered ferry boat plying between Kottayam and Alappuzha districts. The boat was completely designed and developed by CUSAT using only Indian materials (except for the batteries), and runs completely on solar power, requiring no fuel and has zero emissions, compared to 100 litres of fuel and 250 kilograms of emissions a day compared to a diesel boat. The cost of transporting a person on a solar boat is 5 paise compared to 170 paise on a diesel boat.
A majority of homes (including mine) have a rooftop solar system installed usually is used to charge inverter batteries or heat water. A lot of people have installed heavy-duty panels and systems of a couple of kilowatts atop their houses to capture solar energy, and not only completely power their homes by electricity generated from those panels, but also sell their excess electricity back to KSEB, thanks to Kerala’s government’s efficient implementation of net-metering policy as directed by the central government. It will cost you around 3-5 lakhs to completely solar-convert your home. The Kerala government have mandated that McMansions of above 2000 and 3000 square feet have to install solar water heaters of 1000 litres and powerplants of 500 W and 1000 W respectively.
It is heartening that the people of Kerala are very receptive to solar and other eco-friendly power sources and renewable energy. Now, if only they would also extend this to check the massive proliferation of the most polluting and inefficient thing ever invented by mankind, which is so totally and completely unsuited to the nature and landscape of Kerala, but that they hold so dear and love more than their lives itself. If only the Malayalees could give up their cars and demand more and efficient public transportation instead of roads.