TOP PLANT: Gujarat Solar Park, State of Gujarat, India

Courtesy: IANS/Daily News

Owners/operators: Multiple companies
Set up by the Gujarat government, the Gujarat Solar Park is actually a group of solar parks that provide dedicated common infrastructure for photovoltaic-powered projects owned and operated by numerous individual companies. When construction at all the parks is completed by the end of 2013, the Gujarat Solar Park is projected to reach a combined capacity of almost 1,000 MW, which will make it the world’s largest solar energy generation installation.

“This project has the ability to tackle both energy security and water security, thus leaving behind a green footprint for future generations,” said Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in April at the dedication of the 214-MW Charanka Solar Park, one of the solar parks that is part of the Gujarat Solar Park group. The new Charanka park is larger than the 200-MW Golmud Solar Park in China, which previously had been classified as Asia’s largest solar energy facility.

In April, several Gujarat Solar Park facilities that were already operational and had a combined total of 605 MW received certificates of completion. In June, the project’s solar parks reached a combined total of 689.8 MW. The entire group of solar parks is predicted to avoid 8 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions and save 900,000 tons of natural gas annually, according to the Gujarat government.

India’s Electric Power Sector

With a population of approximately 1.2 billion (July 2012 estimate), India is the second most populous nation in the world, behind China. India’s electric power sector had an installed capacity of 207.85 GW as of September 2012, the world’s fifth largest, according to a recent report issued by the Central Electricity Authority, Ministry of Power, Government of India. Captive power plants (those used for in-house power generation, typically by industrial entities) generate an additional 31.5 GW. Thermal power plants constitute 66% of the installed capacity, hydroelectric about 19%, and the rest is a combination of wind, small hydro, biomass, waste-to-electricity, nuclear, and solar. India generated 855 TWh of electricity during the 2011–2012 fiscal year.

The world’s fourth-largest energy consumer after the U.S., China, and Russia, India currently suffers from a major electricity generation shortage. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the country needs to invest at least $135 billion to provide its population with universal electrical access. In December 2011, more than 300 million Indian citizens had no access to electricity. More than one-third of India’s rural population lacked electricity, as did 6% of the urban population. Of those who did have access to electricity, the supply was often intermittent and unreliable—sometimes subject to blackouts such as the massive grid collapses that occurred in July. Fortunately, Gujarat, which actually enjoys an electricity surplus, was reinforced by the Western Grid and escaped those summer blackouts.

At an energy summit held in India in March, IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said, “Sufficient power provision is key to sustaining economic growth and development. The rapid growth of emerging economies like India therefore require significant power demand increases. According to our analysis, in India, electricity demand is projected to more than triple to over 3,200 TWh by 2035. This would imply that over 650 GW of new capacity will have to be built.” The technologies and fuel sources that India adopts as it adds this additional capacity may significantly impact global resource usage and have potentially negative environmental effects, according to the IEA.

Van der Hoeven made the following predictions for India’s electric power sector between 2012 and 2035:

  • Natural gas is expected to be the second-largest source of fuel for power generation, but still modest compared to coal.
  • Coal use in the power sector will almost triple over the forecast period.
  • Nuclear power generation will grow almost 10-fold.
  • The most impressive increase will take place with renewable energy sources as their contribution increases 20-fold over the projection period.

Achieving such growth rates will not be easy, according to the IEA. Indeed, while coal will remain India’s generation backbone during the whole period, coal’s ability to keep pace with such enormous power demand increases is uncertain. This is largely due to logistical challenges and constraints on domestic coal production and the rising price of imported coal. Diversifying into gas and other alternatives is therefore not merely a matter of protecting the environment but also of promoting energy security.

Gujarat’s Policies Promoting Solar Energy

India has solar irradiation that ranges from 4 to 7 kWh/square meter/day across the country, with western and southern regions having higher insolation. (For comparison, the average Phoenix, Ariz., insolation ranges from 6 to 7 kWh/square meter/day during the summer.) Located in India’s western part, Gujarat is one of the most industrialized Indian states. It has annual power generation capacity of more than 14,000 MW with 2,000 MW of surplus power, according to government sources. It’s not surprising that Gujarat, with its plentiful solar resources, is heavily promoting solar park development (Figure 1).

1. Going for a record. Known as one the most business-friendly states in India, Gujarat has launched the Gujarat Solar Park project, which is destined to be world’s largest solar-powered generation installation when it is completed in 2013. The park provides dedicated common infrastructure for PV-powered projects owned and operated by individual companies. Courtesy: IANS/Daily News

As part of the national solar energy initiative, the Gujarat government launched its Solar Power Policy in 2009. The state utility, Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Ltd., entered into long-term power purchase agreements with 84 solar power project investors to commission approximately 968.5 MW of generation capacity by the end of 2013, with the possibility of signing on additional companies in the future. The solar parks are being placed in sparsely populated flat areas in the northern part of the state.

The projects range in size from 1 MW to 40 MW. For example, the Charanka Solar Park consists of a group of 17 thin-film photovoltaic (PV) power systems located on a 4,900-acre site in Patan, a Gujarat district. A total of 17 national and international companies contributed power systems to the grid-connected park. When fully built out by the end of 2014, the park will host 500 MW of solar power systems. The Charanka park, estimated to cost approximately $280 million, was built in 16 months—faster than a conventional fossil-fueled plant.

The governmental development of solar parks has at least two main advantages:

  • It streamlines the project development timeline by letting government agencies undertake land acquisition and necessary permits.
  • It provides dedicated common infrastructure for setting up solar power generation plants funded by individual companies.

This approach has promoted the accelerated installation of private-sector solar power generation capacity and thereby cut many costs that would be faced by stand-alone projects. Common solar park infrastructure includes site preparation and leveling, water availability, access roads, and security services.

In parallel with the central government’s initiative, the Gujarat Electricity Regulatory Commission announced a feed-in tariff to mainstream solar power generation, which will be applied to solar power generation plants in the park. Gujarat Power Corp. Ltd. is the agency that has been responsible for developing the Gujarat Solar Park and leasing land to project developers. Gujarat Energy Transmission Corp. Ltd. is responsible for developing the transmission capabilities for the park. The Asian Development Bank has provided some support for the project.

Renewable Energy Education Initiatives

“While we want to make Gujarat a solar hub, we also want our youth to conduct pioneering research and provide effective energy solutions for future generations,” Modi said in April at the Charanka Solar Park dedication ceremony. In 2008, Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, located in Gujarat, launched its School of Solar Energy, which was a first-of-its-kind training facility in India. The government also is actively supporting research by Gujarat Energy Research & Management Institute and other solar energy groups.

“Will we be able to manage so many solar power plants without having a skilled local workforce? Absolutely not!” Modi said. “Major training initiatives through industrial training institutes (ITIs) will take research and training in this field to another level. Six solar photovoltaic ITI labs have been established and students are already signing up to learn.”

Sunny Forecast for Solar Energy

Under its Solar Power Policy, the state government has signed memoranda of understanding for future projects to be developed in Anand, Banaskantha, Jamnangar, Junagadh, Kutch, Porbandar, Rajkot, Surat, and Surendranagar.

By 2013, India aims for solar power to account for 3% of total national capacity, according to Gujarat Solar Park sources. In addition, the nation wants renewable sources of energy to rise from the current 6% of all capacity to a whopping 15% by 2020.

Angela Neville, JD is POWER’s senior editor.