Government agency to develop solar atlas of India to help development of solar power projects
When India’s solar power developers want to choose a site for their project, they usually turn to NASA and its satellite images to identify the best locations.
This is because even though India is endowed with abundant sunshine, it is vital to know the exact spots to locate projects so that they become viable. The US space agency’s radiation maps help them do this, but they are not quite adequate.
Now, an obscure government agency based in Chennai is promising to change that. It hopes to deliver within two years a state-of-the-art solar atlas of India that could clear a major hurdle obstructing speedy development of solar power projects.
The atlas, which will identify the solar hotspots where the sun’s radiation has optimum intensity for power generation, will enable developers to accurately pinpoint locations for projects, according to the Centre for Wind Energy Technology, which is creating the database.
The expectation is that project developers, armed with the information, will be able to predict the plant’s output with reasonable accuracy. Also, they can make a better choice of which solar technology (photovoltaic, solar thermal or any other) to use.
“Today we use old NASA data,” said Vish Palekar, the chief executive officer of Mahindra Solar. His company just commissioned its first project, a 5 mw unit in Rajasthan, and plans to add 100 MW in about three years.
“To have info mapped in India with local conditions will help us further optimise prediction. The entire ecosystem, with solar atlas mapping, will see companies like ours getting aggressive in future,” he added.
INDIA INC GIANTS EYEING SOLAR PIE
Sun-soaked India, which is chronically energy deficient, has drawn up a plan to generate 20,000 MW of solar power by 2022. To realise this goal, the Centre has created a national solar mission.
The national solar mission includes financial incentives and subsidies to attract investment in this form of clean energy. Out of India’s installed power generation capacity of some 1.9 lakh MW, solar energy currently accounts for just over 100 MW.
But projects with many times that capacity are being planned, with prominent business houses such as the Tatas, Reliance and the Mahindras as well as smaller developers vying for a piece of the solar pie.
“A solar atlas will be very useful. But accuracy depends a lot on how data is being collected – via satellites or combined with ground-based measurements. If there’s a 10% gap between actual radiation and what data shows, the energy output can fall by almost 20%,” said James V Abraham, managing director & CEO of Sunborne Energy Technologies, a Haryana-based company backed by private equity fund General Catalyst Partners.
For now, radiation data for most locations in India are largely provided by satellites from Nasa and others. Some developers have observed a variation in the actual power output compared to the estimates made from satellite data, said Bharat Bhushan Agrawal, analyst at India Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
“The solar resource measured at ground level is more reliable than satellite data. This is why some developers have been doing their own ground data measurements.”
The Centre for Wind Energy Technology will also use satellite imagery – it is requesting the Indian space agency ISRO for help. But before that, an important part of the project was completed last month.
This involved measuring radiation in 51 locations in India, which threw up some surprises, including the fact that pollution-free Ladakh is more suitable for a photovoltaic project than even Rajasthan. The agency is also developing an algorithm to validate the data.