From Land to Water: Recent developments in the floating PV segment

The floating, canal-top, and canal-bank solar segments have been gai­n­ing traction as they help avoid land ac­quisition challenges and increase the output of power projects, despite their high upfront cost. Projections made by Wood Mackenzie suggest that the global floating solar demand will grow by an average of 22 per cent between 2019 and 2024. These floating photovoltaic (FPV) projects are preferred due to the very high prices of land, which makes it difficult for developers to acquire large tracts of land for ground-mounted solar projects. The land required per MW for a ground-mo­un­ted solar project is bet­ween 4 and 5 acr­es. However, by deploying projects ov­er large reservoirs, lakes, ponds and canals, land can be preserved for other de­ve­lopment activities.

When such projects are installed over hydroelectric plant reservoirs, they provide efficiency gains through better utilisation of the existing transmission in­frastructure. Moreover, numerous studies sugge­st that the cooling impact of water on the back of modules im­proves their perfor­ma­n­ce. Further, shading, civil work and grid interconnection costs are reduced. The presence of floating solar panels also re­du­ces algae blo­o­ms and water loss  via evaporation, the­reby protecting water resources.

Despite the potential benefits of FPVs, the segment does face a few challenges. Fir­st, there are challenges related to an­cho­ring and mooring the panels in place while considering water level variations, reservoir bed type and depth, extreme weather conditions such as high winds and waves. Due to this, the engineering and construction costs of FPVs are typically higher than those of ground-mo­unted solar projects. Second, there are sa­fety concerns related to cable management and insulation testing, particularly when cables come into contact with water. Third, floating installations are vulnerable to moisture-related de­gradation and corrosion, particularly in harsh coastal environments. Fourth, there is a high risk of the water being co­nta­mi­na­ted by harmful substances. This may ha­ve an impact on the biodiversity in and around these areas. Fifth, these projects are expensive, because of the high costs of the imported materials re­quired for set­ting up the necessary facilities. More­over, maintenance activities are slightly more difficult in water than on land. Boa­ts may be required to access solar plants, while divers may be requir­ed to inspect the anchoring and mooring systems.

Technology trends

A floating solar project uses the same el­ectrical configuration as a ground-mo­unted system. But it is distinguished by the floating platform. Any type of solar array that floats on top of a body of water is known as an FPV array. Solar panels must be attached to a buoyant structure to ke­ep them afloat on water. Unlike solar PV plants, pontoons are us­ed in FPVs as the floating platforms up­on which the solar panels are mounted. They are held in pla­ce by anchoring and mooring systems. Because of their critical role, the design of these anchoring and mooring systems is influenced by a number of factors, including wind load, float type, water depth and water level variation.

With the expansion of the floating solar segment, various types of floating platforms are becoming available in the market. Pure float configurations are the most common, globally. They have specially de­signed buoyant bodies that provide direct support to solar panels. Mo­re­over, these floats have fewer metal pa­r­ts and are easy to assemble and ins­tall. Pon­to­ons with metal frames are another commonly deployed design. The metal frames are used to mount solar panels on pontoons, removing the need for specially de­signed floats. Further, to create a base for ins­talling solar panels, the entire water surface can be covered with ru­bber mats or membranes fixed to floating rings. Oth­er technologies inclu­de liquid solar arra­ys, high density polyethylene floating platforms, solar islands, floating grids, polyculture-bas­ed platforms and tracking-type floating solar systems.

Recent developments

There are many large FPV projects in the pi­peline. Here are a few developments in the segment over the last couple of months:

  • In January 2022, the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) estimated a floating solar potential of 2 GW across reservoirs at its Maithon, Panchet, Ti­laiya and Kon­ar dams in Jharkhand. The company has requested permission from the Mi­ni­s­­try of New and Renewable Energy to build this capacity under the Ultra Mega Renewable En­ergy Power Parks sche­me, and has already received approval for 990 MW. This capacity is expected to be built across three reservoirs in a joint venture (JV) with NTPC Re­newable Ener­gy Limited (NTPC REL). DVC has sign­ed an agreement with NTPC REL to de­velop renewable energy power par­ks in and around its dam reservoirs.
  • In the same month, Tusco Limited, a JV between the central gover­nment-ow­­ned hydropower company THDC India Limited and the Uttar Pra­desh New and Renewable Energy Develop­ment Ag­ency, invited bids for a consultant for floating solar power projects on various dam reservoirs in Ut­tar Pradesh. The scope of work inclu­des preparing a pre-feasibility report and a detailed project report for the de­velopment of these projects.
  • In May 2022, the winners of Rewa Ul­tra Mega Solar Limited’s (RUMSL) auction for the first phase of a 600 MW floating solar park in the Omkaresh­war reservoir in Madhya Pradesh were declared. Amp Energy, NHDC and SJVN were awar­ded 100 MW each at the quoted tariffs of Rs 3.21 per kWh, Rs 3.22 per kWh and Rs 3.26 per kWh respectively. Then, in October 2022, SJVN won the Maharash­tra State Po­wer Generation Company’s auction to build a 105 MW floating solar project at the Erai Dam Solar Park in Maha­ra­shtra’s Chandra­pur district, at a tariff of Rs 3.93 per kWh.
  • In July 2022, India’s largest floating so­l­ar power project, the Ramagundam flo­a­ting solar PV project, was commis­sio­n­ed in Telangana. NTPC declared the commercial operation of the final part, with a capacity of 20 MW out of the total 100 MW. The 100 MW FPV boasts of advanced technology and en­vironment-friendly features. It was constructed at a cost of Rs 4.23 billion and spans over 500 acres of reservoir space. The site is divided into 40 blo­cks, each with 2.5 MW of capacity.
  • In November 2022, Phase II of RUMSL’s auction for the floating solar park at the Omkareshwar reservoir in Ma­dhya Pra­desh was conducted. NTPC Renew­able Energy won a ca­pa­city of 90 MW at Rs 3.69 per kWh, whi­le SJVN Green Energy and Hinduja Re­newables won 83 MW and 80 MW respectively, both quoting a tariff of Rs 3.70 per kWh.
  • In December 2022, Gensol Engineering was declared the winner in an auction to develop 30 MW of floating solar projects at three thermal power plants ac­ro­ss Jharkhand and West Bengal, with a bid of Rs 2.32 billion. The tender was issued by the Solar Energy Corpo­ration of India in June 2022.


The use of FPVs to harness solar power is likely to become more prominent, as the costs and technical challenges are ex­pected to decrease as the technology ad­vances. The Indian government is formulating fiscal measures to enable active domestic manufacturing of the necessary infrastructure for FPVs. The government is also consulting with states to identify stretches of waterbodies and reservoirs to set up floating solar projects.

As reported by the International Finance Corporation, there is significant room for growth in FPV power generation. Hy­dro­po­wer reservoirs alone cover over 250,000 square km of area around the world, which is sufficient to host floating solar capacity to produce 2.5 times the electricity produced by the underlying hydropower capacity. Combining hy­dro­power generation with floating solar panels could produce promising results.

With India’s substantial renewable energy targets and land constraint issues, the potential of floating solar in the country sh­ould not be overlooked. While steps in this direction have been taken, more efforts should be directed towards identifying suitable waterbodies in each sta­te to implement these projects.

Nikita Choubey