Many defend solar energy as an alternative to consider for a sustainable future. But inevitably we run into a snag. Beyond the use that can be made of sunlight with the technology we currently use in solar panels, the big problem is that solar farms occupy kilometres of space. Space that has a value, which can be economic or, ironically, ecological.
Hence, the project that we are going to talk about has more value if possible.
Apart from the importance of installing solar panels in an area of about 532 kilometres long, the distance that the Narmada canal run throughout the state of Gujarat. Solar panels act as a protector of the waters that flow through these canals, preventing their evaporation in the face of high temperatures.
Gujarat has more than 80,000 kilometres of water canals. According to the Gujarat State Electricity Corporation, if only 30% of these canals were covered with solar panels, 18,000 megawatts of power would be generated. The equivalent, in the occupied area, would be that of a solar farm of 364 square kilometres.
For now, the project started in 2012 has been joined by others, such as the one announced in 2019 and which was to reach a power of 100 megawatts occupying 40 kilometres of the main channel that constitutes the Narmada river.
But the project goes beyond Gujarat. Another seven states in India have been adding different installations of solar channels. Like Punjab, Karnataka or Kerala. To make it possible, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energies of India, in 2016, offered aid for the creation of these solar installations, many of which are already finished and in operation.
How efficient they are
The advantages of solar plants above canals are not only about local energy production and land savings. For one thing, solar power plants can be built much faster than large coal or gas power plants. On the other hand, the coating of the channel helps to prevent the evaporation of water, leaving more available for crops and people.
The installation of solar panels on the canals makes both systems more efficient. Solar panels would reduce evaporation from the canals, especially during the hot summers. The water warms more slowly than land, canal water flowing under the panels could cool them by 10 F, increasing electricity production by up to 3%.
These canopies could also generate electricity locally in many parts of California, reducing both transmission losses and costs to consumers. Combining solar power with battery storage can help build microgrids in rural areas and underserved communities, making the power system more efficient and resilient. This would mitigate the risk of power losses due to extreme weather conditions, human error, and wildfires.
We estimate that the cost of traversing canals with solar panels will be higher than building ground-mounted systems. But when we added in some of the co-benefits, such as avoided land costs, water savings, aquatic weed mitigation, and improved PV efficiency, we found that solar troughs were a better investment, providing electricity at a lower cost over the life of the solar installations. And this is before taking into account the human health benefits of improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Some of the finer details about the project:
- The first 1 MW top-of-the-canal solar power project was implemented in the Sanand Branch canal of the Sardar Sarovar project.
- It is capable of generating 1.6 million units of clean electricity per year and prevents 90 lakh litres of water from evaporating.
- Solar cells mounted at the top of the canal are cooler than their terrestrial counterparts. This resulted in the cells having an average temperature that was 10 per cent cooler. Because of this, the power generated by the plant was significantly higher than that of a ground-mounted solar PV plant.
- In Gujarat alone, there is a canal network of 80,000 km. According to GSECL (Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited) estimate, even if 30 per cent of this canal network is used for the installation of solar PV plants, it can generate up to 18,000 MW of power, which will also save 90,000 acres. of Earth.
- Many other channel top plants have been established in India itself: a 10 MW plant has been replicated in the city of Vadodara in Gujarat (Image 2), a 1 MW plant has been installed in Karnataka and a top plant has also been installed. channel. added in Andhra Pradesh.
- The first pilot project demonstrated by GSECL received the prestigious Prime Minister’s Award for Best Project in Public Administration for the year 2015.
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