First floating solar energy plant in India

Australian solar power company, Sunengy, has entered into a partnership with India’s largest integrated private power utility, Tata Power, that will allow it to build a pilot plant for its low-cost, floating-on-water, solar technology in India by the end of this year.

Peter Wakeman, chairman and executive director of business development, Sunengy, said Tata Power, a flagship company of the Tata group, has partnered with Sunengy for its interest in its patented Liquid Solar Array (LSA) technology.

Mr Wakeman said the deal was significant for the future use of solar energy globally because it allows Sunengy to demonstrate the practicality of its technology in one of the world’s most promising solar power markets.

The LSA technology was invented by Phil Connor, executive director and chief technology officer, Sunengy, and a passionate advocate of solar power for 45 years. Mr Connor said that, when located on and combined with hydroelectric dams, LSA provides the breakthroughs of reduced cost and “on demand” 24/7 availability that are necessary for solar power to become widely used.

LSA uses traditional concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) technology — a lens and a small area of solar cells that tracks the sun throughout the day, like a sunflower. Floating the LSA on water reduces the need for expensive supporting structures to protect it from high winds. The lenses submerge in bad weather and the water also cools the cells which increases their efficiency and life-span.

According to Mr Connor, hydropower supplies 87 per cent of the world’s renewable energy and 16 per cent of the world’s power but is limited by its water resource. He said an LSA installation could match the power output of a typical hydro dam using less than 10 per cent of its surface area and supply an additional six to eight hours of power per day. Modelling by Sunengy shows that a 240MW LSA system could increase annual energy generation at the Portuguese hydro plant, Alqueva, by 230 per cent.

“LSA effectively turns a dam into a very large battery, offering free solar storage and opportunity for improved water resource management,” Mr Connor said. “LSA needs no heavy materials or huge land acquisitions and is effectively cyclone-proof,” he said. “If India uses just 1 per cent of its 30,000 square kilometres of captured water with our system, we can generate power equivalent to 15 large coal-fired power stations.”

Banmali Agrawala, executive director, Tata Power, said, “In our quest to deliver sustainable energy, Tata Power is consistently investing in clean and eco-friendly technologies. We have partnered with Sunengy, Australia, for a pilot plant in India, which is concentrated photovoltaic solar technology and floats on water. This nascent technology will be demonstrated in natural environment; utilises the water surface for mounting and does not compete with land that can be used for other purposes.”

Mr Wakeman said the primary market for LSA is the provision of industrial scale electricity via hydropower facilities. Other markets include mining sites as well as villages and remote communities reliant on diesel power generators.

Construction of the pilot plant in India will commence in August 2011. Sunengy plans to establish a larger LSA system in the NSW Hunter Valley in mid 2012 before going into full production.