According to industry leaders, high temperatures, dust and the dearth of water are contributing to a significant increase in the cost of operating solar power plants in the country. Shortage of a skilled labour and the hardness of water are amongst the general problems that plants across the country are facing. All the same, dust is proving to be the most detrimental and marring the efficient operation of solar units.
We all are attuned to adverse weather conditions and scorching heat, amusingly it does not only trouble us but also impair the functioning of solar panels. Mr. Ashish Khanna, Tata Power Solar Systems CEO and Executive Director, said that “The solar panels that are used are not designed for such high temperatures”. In remote areas with high temperatures, panels do not yield their optimal usage; consequently people do not get required units of power.
According to CARE Credit Research, India ranks among the highest in the world in terms of solar irradiation with an average reading of 5.1 kilowatt hours (Kwh) per square metre. This is higher than Germany (2.9 KwH), Japan (3.65 KwH), the US (4.7 KwH) and Italy (3.8 KwH), all of which have a larger solar installed capacity than India.
Centre has been employing a slew of measures to foster the growth in solar energy, including subsidies for rooftop solar projects and ensuring grid connectivity. Keeping an eye on 100 GW of solar capacity by 2022, government is determined to weed out problems faced by the industry.
Ketan Mehta, CEO of Rays Power Infra, which has about 1,800 MW of plants across eight states in the country said that dust is a problem, especially in Rajasthan, where the dust conditions are really bad and require frequent cleaning around two times a month which increases the operational cost.
Cleaning costs are also marring the growth of solar plants. In some states of the country like Rajasthan and Gujarat, frequent cleaning, almost on fortnightly basis is required which leads to increased costs.
Besides the dust, hardness of water is another issue as hard water is not suitable for cleaning so companies have to incur additional cost on reverse osmosis and other technology. Since many large-scale power plants are situated in the interior regions of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and parts of South India, getting soft water on sites becomes difficult at times.
Thus distillation plants or reverse osmosis has become an absolute necessity for solar plants in order to provide water which can be used for cleaning modules.
The unavailability of a steady water supply further adds to the woes of solar plant operators. 3-4 litres of water are required to clean each module. Availability of water in remote areas is a problem so plant operators have to bank upon tankers.
The government is also eyeing on incorporating the still-dormant rooftop solar sector into its target for 2022, which means individual households will also factor in the operational costs of having solar modules on their roofs. Another crippling issue is dearth of skilled workforce, who is essentially required for cleaning and maintenance. To bring in trained workforce from other areas and train them is a costly affair. According to industry experts, higher operating costs and historically low tariffs for solar power could pose a future risk for the industry.