Clean Power Gujarat canal-top solar power plant

Published on August 13th, 2013 | by Mridul Chadha


Indian State Plans 10 MW Canal-top Solar Power Project

August 13th, 2013 by  

The Indian state of Gujarat is planning to expand on its revolutionary initiative to cover canals with solar panels. The state government already has a 1 MW canal-top solar power project operational. A number of other states in the country are also planning to emulate this program which saves water and generates electricity as well.

The state government is planning to set up a 10 MW solar PV project over the Sardar Sarovar canal which supplies water to the arid regions of Saurashtra and Kutch. The state government is pushing for the project as it is expected to save millions of litres of water from evaporation.

There are other advantages of the canal-top solar power projects. There is no need to acquire land for the project which can been a contentious issue in India and represents a substantial share in the capital cost of solar power projects. Since these projects carry more than one sustainability attributes multinational lenders like the World Bank may be more inclined to provide cheap finance to the projects.

While Gujarat is the first state to set up canal-top solar power project in India, Punjab (in north India) was the first state to come up with the concept. Such a project would have had a substantial benefits in Punjab in terms of water conservation as it is an agricultural state. No progress on the project has been reported in recent years though.

The Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC), in eastern India, has an even more ambitious plan. The company plans to set up 1,000 MW worth of solar power capacity by covering 2,494 kilometres of the irrigation canals. The company hopes to rope-in the World Bank for financing.

The central government and governments of other states must also look to promote such projects which provide multiple sustainability benefits and do not require the developers to acquire any agricultural land for setting up projects.

Title Image Credit: Gujarat canal-top solar power project / Credit: Hitesh vip | CC BY-SA 3.0

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About the Author

currently works as Head-News & Data at Climate Connect Limited, a market research and analytics firm in the renewable energy and carbon markets domain. He earned his Master’s in Technology degree from The Energy & Resources Institute in Renewable Energy Engineering and Management. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering. Mridul has a keen interest in renewable energy sector in India and emerging carbon markets like China and Australia.

  • Vm

    india is doing it right. it builds both nuclear power plants and renewable power plants. that is the fastest way to wean ourselves off fossil fuels

  • Jonathan_Justice

    Can they frame this out in bamboo?

    • ericpruss

      Why would you want to do that?

      • Jonathan_Justice

        To lower capital costs and reduce carbon footprint. A lot of metal smelting presently involves burning lots of coal or using vast quantities of electricity and oxygen. Someday such power may be available from regional grids powered by renewables, but for now, the energy mostly comes by way of exacerbating the carbon crisis that is driving climate disruption. Growing bamboo stores carbon in the crop and the ground it grows in.

        My thought is that appropriate design and perhaps chemical treatment would allow bamboo to do much of the work that the photo suggests that metal trusses are being used for in the demonstration project being discussed.

        India in particular has additional reason to look at this. Unlike the US where consumption of electrical power delivered by the various grids has leveled off over the last five years, Indian power companies famously come up short on delivering the power consumers and small businesses need. Using available capacity to process metals needs to be considered pretty carefully under those circumstances.

        We should notice that this approach would parallel the synergy the scheme already offers in reducing evaporation from the water in the irrigation canals.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Those panels are likely to be cranking out power 40, 50 years from now. That would mean many bamboo replacements over the system’s lifetime.

          The metal framing is most likely “second use” steel. Recycled from other uses such as automobiles. Some likely coming from the ship wrecking yards.

          Bamboo is pretty incredible stuff. I’ve seen buildings significantly higher than ten stories being built with bamboo scaffolding. But I’d suspect each individual bamboo pole or timber is used only a few years.

        • ericpruss

          Bob replied with what I had in mind.

          The PV panels will last decades, but even chemically treated (a whole new environmental problem in itself) bamboo would not last that long, especially in a humid environment over a water filled canal.

          Some people might cite how long railroad trusses last (many decades), but that is because they get regularly coated with creosote (obtained from burning coal) or other chemicals on a regular basis. Having observed such retreatment processes of a railroad bridge near a prior home, I know a LOT of the chemicals drip off the structure onto the surface below. In this case, the structure would be spanning many miles of the canal, so the surface that the potentially toxic chemicals are dripping into is water destined for farms (and possibly human drinking water in a country not known for good water treatment). Worse yet, the retreatment of the bamboo structure would also entail overspray onto the panels – PV panels are normally made as one unit – if even a small portion of the panel were to be shaded even a small amount (say from a small amount of overspray of creosote or even a seemingly “clear” chemical, the entire panel would decrease in efficiency).

          Additionally, the metal ramework would surely be coming from pre-existing producers, who if located in India, would already be using the energy they are using and would still be using that energy if the solar framework were to be made of other materials.

  • Marion Meads

    Some Napa vineyards installed solar panels over their water reservoir. It has many benefits. For one, the area is free, it will not compete with vineyard space. The next is that it significantly lowered water evaporation from the ponds, third is that it is difficult for thieves to steal the solar panels. Of course it is slightly more expensive to install over water. But solar PV itself paints an image of sustainability for the vineyard, and besides, you get electricity.

    • Matt

      Over the canals is easier than a pond, since they are for the most part constant width, and not so wide that you have to add supports in the middle. But yes, this works. Also over you visitor parking lot, since it shades their cars.

      • Marion Meads

        The winery in question already have big trees over the parking lot and the tasting room, so unsuitable for solar PV. The wine tasting room is more beautiful with trees than with solar panels. The savings from evaporation is tremendous, cutting the rate by more than half, especially in California where water is a very important resource.

    • Omega Centauri

      The real queston is how much os a premium is involved with putting PV over canals like this?
      It clearly is more expensive to create structural spans over a canel -and likely access for cleaning and maintenence is probably higher as well. So it becomes a tradeoff between the extra cost of spanning the canal, versus the cost of land, with lower evaporation thrown in.

      California has quite a lot of similar water canals, yet the water department was decidely unenthusiastic about this, claiming they’d rather put the panels on dry land. I presume they ran the numbers.

      • Omega Centauri, you are absolutely right about that! As per my information, the cost of civil work was higher than the actual solar PV power plant. However, Mr. Narendra Modi did it anyway, more as a showcase project (it is one of its kind) rather than for its economic feasibility.

  • JamesWimberley

    It’ s not just the land. Larger canals come with roads or tracks along the banks for maintenance, so access is straightforward. British Waterways, which runs Britain’s legacy canal system (used now for tourism rather than freight, but largely intact), leases rights under the towpaths for optical-fibre cables.

    • Dd

      In hot countries like India the operating efficiency of solar panels increases due to lower ambient temparature beneath the panels

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