06/05/2014 - 07/05/2014, Dubai

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India: FAST forward to 10,000MW

Anil Lakhina, chairman of India’s think tank, Forum for Advancement of Solar Thermal (FAST), carves out a strategy for deploying 10,000MW of solar under India’s 12th Five-Year Plan.

By Rikki Stancich

Next month (April), India is due to initiate the process for allocations of annual targets under its 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17). Under the plan, India proposes to install 10,000MW of solar energy.

While the split between CSP and PV has yet to be decided, India’s solar thermal industry is hoping for a 50:50 allocation, says Anil Lakhina, chairman of India’s think tank, Forum of the Advancement of Solar Thermal (FAST).

It would be an ambitious leap from the 470MW of CSP recently allocated, which has yet to be installed. There are currently seven players in India’s CSP market among which 470MW was allocated in the first phase of the NSM. The projects range in scale from 20MW, 50MW and 100MW. In addition, 54MW was migrated from the old system to the new.

According to Anil Lakhina all 470MW allocated last year are currently under construction. “The technology has been tied up, the EPCs have been engaged, order for turbines placed, in some cases the land has been leveled, the power blocks are ready and the civil works are nearing completion”, he confirms.

“[India has] experience of putting up PV and some CSP plants are now under construction. The players are confident that they will deliver”. By contrast, he says all 54MW of the migratory schemes “have failed”.

DNI doubts

So far, there is only one solar power tower project, which according to Mr Lakhina, “hasn’t panned out”. “ In this case, the project size was too small for the technology to be fully optimised and the DNI estimate was inaccurate,” he says.

According to Mr Lakhina, this is not the only project for which DNI estimates are an issue. “Controversy remains concerning the available DNI. There is one school that believes the DNI is less than 2000 Kwh/m2; in other words, that the actual solar radiation could be 20‐30% lower than the satellite data and resource models available at that time. The other school, including S2M and Suntrace, believe the DNI to be better than in Spain”, he explains.

India’s solar programme hinges on the reliability of the solar resource data. In recent years private developers have put in place ground measurements, predominantly in Gujurat and Rajasthan. The government has additionally tendered fifty stations to be distributed all over India, which will “significantly improve data” in the coming years.

Fueling the case for storage

Another burning question facing renewable energy developers in India is that of auxiliary fuel. As fuel prices spiral upward, it is an issue that developers will need to carefully consider.

Currently CSP plants are allocated 10-15% of gas back-up CSP plants in Spain, and 25% for US plants, of which around 6-15% is actually used. According to Mr Lakhina, the lack of natural gas resource in Gujurat and Rajasthan means that Indian CSP plants will need to be more efficient than their Spanish and US counterparts.

“We need to consider whether we can use alternatives like biomass or biofuel”. But this, he says, raises the questions of whether there is biomass resource in proximity of the plant. He instead suggests that projects with storage should be given preference in future bidding rounds.

Gas is not the only scarce resource. India is a water-scarce country, which does not complement water-thirsty technologies like CSP. Worse still, there is no spare capacity; the water that has been allocated for concentrated solar power has been diverted from other uses, says Mr Lakhina.

At this stage, with only 470MW being installed, CSP’s water consumption is not a major issue, he says. However, in desert regions such as Rajasthan, a proposed 5GW of installed CSP capacity requiring cooling would present a significant challenge.

The average water consumption per generation for a water or ‘wet-cooled’ CSP plant is 3.5 m3/MWh; slightly more than the water consumption for coal (about 2.2 m3/MWh) and nuclear (3.2 m3/MWh).

However, dry cooling technologies do exist. While in their current form they compromise efficiency and drive up the capital cost of CSP projects by as much as 8%, they can reduce water consumption by up to 90% (reducing it to 0.3 m3/MWh), according to a recent study by Worley Parsons and the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

For this reason, the industry is calling for additional incentives for dry cooling technologies. “With more research and development to improve cost and efficiency, dry cooling will soon be a viable option”, insists Mr Lakhina.

Knowledge transfer

Wavering political support for renewable energy in Spain and the US is prompting international developers to seek out countries with long-term renewable energy policy frameworks. But if India is to realize its 2022 ambition, and in doing so, become a global leader in concentrated solar power, it will need to attract more innovation.

To do so, the government would need to allocate a high level of megawatts to CSP, in order to attract manufacturers to India, says Mr Lakhina. In addition, he believes that increasing the local content requirement would compel European and US manufacturers to establish a local presence.

“Currently the 30% local content mandate in place is easily met via non-technical components such as local labour used for ground-leveling”, explains Mr Lakhina. To compel foreign manufacturers to go local, he suggests the local content requirement would need to be hiked to 40-45%.

“A local presence of international manufacturers brings knowledge transfer. With local players providing the designs, generating costs would be significantly reduced”, he argues. He highlights mirrors and support structures as areas where localization is possible.

Weighing the options

India’s next Five-Year plan begins in April. To deploy 20GW of solar power by 2022, Mr Lakhina says 10GW must be included in the next plan. “Otherwise it will need to be frontloaded into the following plan”.

He says the 10 GW needs to be evenly divided between PV and CSP. “PV is cheaper, CSP is more expensive, but when utilities buy power it is solar, not PV or CSP. Some 30% of 10GW could be supported by a FIT, the remaining 70% could be supported by the CERT market-led mechanism”.

Whether India opts to fund the programme by subsidy or a cash tool has not yet settled. “If there is a large commitment to the FIT, the model becomes difficult to implement, as has been the case in Spain. We need to create a market-based mechanism to provide assurance to players that they can earn form the scheme, such as the Renewable Energy Credits”. In this respect, “we need to assess what modification can be made to CERTS”, says Mr Lakhina.

Several key questions must also be resolved with regard to the bidding process. “Things to consider are whether there is a minimum and maximum capacity for bidding; whether organisations can bid more than once; whether projects should be storage-based or hybrid; and whether there is an alternative mechanism for allocation”.

Currently India’s government is working with the industry to resolve these issues. If and when it does, India will be firmly on track to becoming the world’s leading CSP market.

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Reader comments:


Posted by Hiro Chandwani

It is really amazing that we have not learned from our experience of two phases of bidding. What have we achieved or, for that matter, what is the progress as far as the CSP technology is concerned? We are at same position as we were at two years ago when JNSSM was conceived.

We are fully dependent on overseas technology suppliers even today. What about O & M after the plants are set up. We don't at all think that HR in this technology is another stumbling block. We need to have some arrangements in place for training in this technology. Our policy makers should have first encouraged the development of indigenous technology.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of technical talent in India and the process has been self initiated by several institutions, industries and the individuals and soon we shall have advanced and innovative technological development in India.

The main reason for the slow progress of technology development in this field is requirement of huge financial support. Government and the Indian corporates could have done a lot in this direction to speed up this progress but, there are instances, they have ignored some proposals. With the right kind of policy put in place two years ago, we could have had great progress in the development of this technology.

Coming to the above article, I think it is the positive approach and wishful thinking by Mr. Anil Lakhina, we may see some progress in the development of CSP thermal technology in India. The technology is being developed but it does not get the kind of financial support it needs. There are some really innovative improvements being carried out by some individuals / entities in the prevailing technology which will revolutionize this field of renewable energy. needed to be tapped. With the positive approach, the costs could also be brought down even below the current PV costs.

Mr. Anil Lakhina has drwan our attention to the DNI being not mapped properly. This needs to be looked in. However, this does not affect technically apart from right selection of location. We need to ensure that the data available is accurate enough before selecting the sight as our calculations depend on the accuracy of DNI data.

As far as the storage is concerned, this should not be much of the problem. A better optimized storage could be achieved by making innovative use of some of the new materials and appropriately designing the system.

Locating the the system underground with proper design can result in material costs reduction to the tune of minimum 25%. We could have storage to operate the plants 24 x 7 with little extra costs eliminating the fossil fuel based back up system which will also costs some money.

We do not need any transfer of knowledge  for local manufacturing if we have locally devloped technology. Another advantage will be seeking knowledge to operate and maintain the plants will be totally avoided.

There is fully developed technology available in India which needs to be tried out. It may turn out to be most suited to local conditions with better results than the technology supplied by overseas companies which also has been developed by trial and error methods.

Why aim for 30% or 45% or even 60% when we can have 100% local development with better efficiency. We should have positive approach to this thinking.

Water is another problem in the CSP thermal technology use mainly in the arid areas of dessert. However, instead of using dry technology with lower efficiency alone, we could convert this drawback into advantage by producing clean water if we have a source of raw water like sea coast nearby, by making use of waste heat available in the cooling air,  with use of proper technology. In such conditions, we could have produce more water than is needed for the plant.

With the above options available, we need not have to look to PV option and allocate more than 60% projects for CSP thermal technology.

Regarding incentives to the industry, we should have fixed mechanism most suited to our conditions. It is not difficult to calculate the costs based on available technology. Bidding system will only create confusion and complicated the process of progress and would act as dampner of technology development. The innovations in the technology devlopment should be rewarded.

Best Regards,

Hiro Chandwani.


06/05/2014 - 07/05/2014, Dubai

Create an unbeatable proposal with the perfect combination of market insight and robust desert plant design to win projects in MENA