Some of the best ideas, when it comes to the introduction of relatively new technology comes when it solves a couple of problems at the same time. The idea to cover the Narmada branch canal in Gujurat, India with solar panels is an especially clever one.
Not only will the solar power generated from the panels provide clean energy for the local residents, it will be saving an incredible amount of land. When the canal is covered over there is the additional benefit of saving huge quantities of water that would otherwise be lost from the irrigation canals through evaporation. That’s three benefits gained through the installation of solar panels and a significant saving of some of our most important natural resources.
The project has been set up as part of an experimental process by the State-owned Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) and the Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited. This small-scale experiment covers a 750 meter stretch of canal to generate 1MW of electricity from the panels. It has also been indicated that the solar panels are capable of producing power at a 15% premium to the power that might be generated on land thanks to the cooling effect of the water running beneath them.
This trial project suggests that there is enormous potential for large scale solar energy generation through the use of the canals considering the Narmada dam project in Gujarat consists of 85,000 kilometres of canals when you take into consideration the main, branch and sub-branch canals. Figures floated around suggest that if 10 per cent of the canal network were to be covered by solar panels the generating capabilities would be around 2,200MW. Using the canals to produce this much solar energy would save 11,000 acres of land and would eliminate the loss of millions of litres of water per year.
Naturally, whether or not the replication process is carried out over a larger expanse of the canals will come down to money and whether it is considered cost effective. The project, which was completed by Sun Edison, was completed at a cost of Rs 17.71 crore. Gurdeep Singh, managing director of Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited (GSECL) has pointed out that this cost was higher than normal because of it was the first of its kind and indicated that similar sized projects could be completed at a lower cost of around Rs 12 crore.
At this point it is only feasible to place the solar panels on the narrower sub-branch parts of the canals. But according to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, work is being done on finding a way to engineer a solution for putting the solar panels up over the wider main canals. The limitation comes down to working out a way to support the panels without affecting the water flow underneath.
part of the savings for the government that are realised by using the canal system to locate these solar panels is the elimination of the expense of procuring the land that would otherwise be required.
This is a model that holds a lot of promise, not only for the rest of the Narmada canals in India but for other similar sites around the world.