• Electrical India
  • Dec 5, 2016

Reliability Of Solar PV Plants

Against the background of increasing costs of conventional power, concerns regarding availability and reliability of power from grid and long term commercial feasibility of solar power, commercial and industrial consumers are installing rooftop solar technology to meet their captive needs...

- Rajnikanth


 India is endowed with abundant free solar energy. Using the country’s deserts and farm land and taking advantage of 300 to 330 sunny days a year, India could easily generate 5,000 trillion kilowatt-hours of solar energy. Solar power is one of the fastest growing renewable energy technologies and within a relatively short period of five years we have seen a steep fall (more than 60%) in solar PV capital cost and tariff.

  Against the background of increasing costs of conventional power, concerns regarding availability and reliability of power from grid and long term commercial feasibility of solar power, commercial and industrial consumers are installing rooftop solar technology to meet their captive needs. Investing in solar power is also helping companies meet their corporate social responsibility initiative along with long term commercial gains.

  India is poised to become a global force in the solar power industry, an emerging regulatory regime and high peak prices make this opportunity real and attractive.

  Solar power could present a rapidly scalable solution for both on-grid and off-grid applications, some of the advantages of Solar Power are the ease of access to power, a renewable energy source, reduction in electricity bills etc.

Challenges

  Researchers and experts argue that meeting the said targets will require potentially difficult reforms by both the central and the state governments. It can be achieved by merely building massive solar parks that are on the government’s radar. Encouraging rooftop and off-grid solar projects will help create the broad political support crucial to the solar push.

  For the bigger solar projects, which India hopes will account for 60 gigawatts of capacity by 2022, the cost of the electricity produced has already fallen beneath the cost of power generated from imported coal, and could soon be cheaper than power from domestic coal. Yet solar developers face difficulties acquiring land and getting permissions to build transmission lines. Deeper obstacles lie with the utility companies that buy and distribute electricity to homes and factories.

  With over 300 days of sunshine in almost all parts of the country, the concern with solar energy is the technology and quality of the products, unlike wind energy where the challenge lies in situating the wind farm in the right location.

  For any bank, cash flow is important and the performance of a PV plant impacts the cash flow. A PV solar panel is the heart of the plant and the energy generating unit.Today, the problem is that there are so many technologies available when it comes to PV power plants like Crystalline, Thinfilm, Concentrated PV which are competing with each other but the problem is these technologies are proved in laboratories but not on the field. Modules are the biggest concern for the banks and some banks have a well-defined bankability program, which is a combination of factory inspections where they want a third party to visit their facility where their modules are being manufactured and they want the production process to be audited according to their protocol.

Way Forward

  The previous UPA Government in 2010 took a big step towards large-scale solar deployment in the country with the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM). Originally, this program set a target of 20GW of government-deployed solar projects by 2022.

  The progress from 2010, when installed solar capacity in India was a mere 18 MW, to 2015, when installed capacity is around 4.5 GW (as of August 2015) and growing, has demonstrated the viability of India as a major solar market. However, a consolidated effort between the Industry and the government in introducing reforms across various levels, along with accelerating testing and certification of PV plants will be essential in ensuring the bankability and safety of solar projects in India.

  Reforming the Utilities and the need to harmonize state and central policies is key. The power grids that largely operate across majority of the states face several issues that would discourage solar investment. In the long run, India will need to pursue a transformation of its utility sector to increase renewable generation while keeping power affordable and reliable.

  In order to ramp up solar power capacity, India will now need to implement an efficient division of labour between the centre, which sets overall targets, and state governments, that implement the targets and oversee most of the deployment of the targeted capacity. Therefore, it is essential that the government at the centre and state coordinate their policies to ramp up the solar power.

  India will need to evaluate a balance between its reliance on foreign technology and the limitations it faces domestically in the technical know-how in the solar PV space. Governments and institutions around the world are well placed to undertake collaborations with India to ensure access to foreign products, modify technologies for use in the Indian climate, and train a workforce capable of deploying reliable installations.

  The government will have to strengthen ties with existing third party testing and certification institutions to ensure reliability of the PV plants. The role of a third party player is key in overcoming the challenges of underperforming panels, installations and availability of trained manpower and quality of workmanship. Also required will be significant investments in the energy efficiency testing labs, thereby supplementing government efforts in safeguarding the environment while enabling economic growth.

  In solar energy, safety and performance go hand-in-hand. The challenges are quite evident in terms of estimation of the yield of a particular solar power plant. A critical factor is the right design of the solar plant and right selection of components within the plant. The quality and performance of PV modules and inverter efficiency among others will decide the overall efficiency of the plant.

  The demand for PV equipment has increased and, hence, there is an increased need for an effective testing and certification solution. With an expected lifespan of 20-25 years, it is difficult to guarantee the safety and performance of products and components used in renewable energy resources. Testing for reliability and durability and certification program with strong surveillance mechanisms is the only way to ensure bankability in terms of safety, quality and performance of these products. Creating awareness on the dangers of various applications of solar and wind energy and solutions to mitigate the same are crucial steps towards ensuring complete success of renewable energy projects. Handling of hazardous equipment and material can have catastrophic effects if safety and quality standards are not followed.

Conclusion

  India is on the threshold of a green energy revolution that can light up a new era of energy, economic and environmental security. To achieve this goal, India needs to fundamentally transform the manner in which it produces, distributes and consumes energy. In recent years, cost cutting measures are compromising on quality of the components used, the technology needs to be well established and available. If properly developed and used, India’s abundantly available renewable resources could meet all of its energy demand by 2030.


Rajnikanth
Business Head – Commercial & Industrial,
South Asia, UL

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