Floating solar photovoltaic (FPV) technology offers a new and additional pathway to realize India’s clean energy ambitions. It taps the country’s large water reservoirs to overcome some of the persisting issues of ground-mounted solar, such as the lack of levelled land, evacuation infrastructure and performance degradation due to high operating temperatures. Concurrently, FPV provides additional employment opportunities. The Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and the Skill Council for Green Jobs (SCGJ) have undertaken periodical studies to estimate the direct jobs created in the solar and wind industry since 2014. In this study, we estimate the direct employment potential across the project deployment cycle in the FPV sector. This estimate is drawn from project-based case-studies generated through surveys and interviews with manufacturers, developers, and EPC (engineering, procurement, and construction) providers. We also provide an insight into the operational strategies and team structure in addition to discussing the typical duration of different phases of project development and the corresponding workforce employed.
• A small-scale FPV plant (capacity <1 MW) directly employs 58 workers while a mid-scale (capacity <10 MW) plant 45, over the course of their deployment.
• The FPV sector generates indirect job opportunities through manufacturers of specialized components like floats, anchors, and mooring system as well as domestic module manufacturers.
• The FPV sector offers opportunities for people qualified in hydraulic engineering, marine
architecture, and plastic blow-moulding techniques, some of the key skills required for bringing an FPV plant to life, in addition to those required in groundmounted solar operations.
• By setting time-based targets for FPV capacity, the government could widen the employment potential of this sector, which would bolster efforts to drive India’s COVID-19 economic recovery and achieve its Paris Agreement goals.
Employment Insights from the Development of a Mid-Scale Plant
Floating photovoltaic (FPV) solar is an emerging technology in which solar photovoltaic (PV) modules are installed (floated) on a water body. Asia has taken a lead in FPV solar deployments, driven by rapid capacity deployments in China, India, South Korea, Taiwan,
Thailand, and Vietnam, and is expected to host two-third of the global capacity. FPV’s global installed capacity was 2.6 GW by August 2020 and a study projects a 20 percent annual growth till 2025.1 A conservative estimate puts the global FPV potential at 400 GW, which indicates enormous opportunities for this sector’s growth.
For clean energy transition, FPV technology offers immense opportunities for India, as water bodies are spread across its vast landscape. By the middle of 2019, India had about 2.7 MW of installed FPV capacity and projects with a combined capacity of 1.5 GW capacity are under development.3 The Government of India has set a target of achieving 10 GW of FPV capacity by 2022.4 According to someestimates, India can build 280 GW of FPV capacity by by utilizing about 30 percent area (nearly 1,800 square kilometres) of its medium and large water reservoirs.5 The bid prices for FPV tenders are also steadily declining, registering a 45 percent drop in prices between 2016 and 2018. As a result, India has achieved the lowest cost for FPV projects at `35 ($0.5)/watt, which was offered during the bid for 70 MW FPV capacity in Kerala.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR FPV IN INDIA
FPV offers a promising option for supporting India’s clean energy transition. FPVs face fewer challenges compared to ground-mounted solar plants which are often confronted with issues such as unavailability of levelled land for installation, lack of power evacuation infrastructure in proximity to the installation site, and performance losses due to high operating temperatures. FPV eliminates the need for land by exploiting the existing artificial and natural water bodies like reservoirs and lakes. When these water bodies are in close proximity to an electricity generation site (e.g. hydropower dams or thermal power plants), an easy access to the transmission network is assured. The efficiency of solar generation is also enhanced by cooling effect of the water beneath and reduced soiling of the module surface.
Overview of floating solar technology
An FPV system consists of PV modules mounted on a floating structure, supported by mooring lines and anchors embedded in the water bed. The floating structure consists of a float, commonly made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), designed to withstand water currents, local wind, and weight of the PV modules and auxiliaries. The floats are occasionally made of fibrereinforced plastic (FRP) and metals. Cables connect the modules to the inverters, which are typically installed at the shore. Figure 1 shows a schematic representation of a typical FPV system with its main elements.
As FPV is a sunrise sector of the economy, we use a project-based analysis to assess the employment potential in the sector. We derived insights about operation strategies, organisational structure, and employed workforce at a project level through surveys and interviews with manufacturers, developers, and engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) providers.
KEY FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION
We provide insights from the survey responses and telephonic discussions in this section. We have gathered details on the average duration of activities and number of people employed along with how the duration of activities and workforce employed change based on the project size and company profile. These are indicative numbers based on the limited responses. A more comprehensive study undertaken when the sector matures would provide a clear picture of overall employment created over the course of an FPV project.
OPERATION AND MAINTENANCE
Operation and maintenance (O&M) of FPV plants are relatively smoother than ground-mounted solar. This is because installations on water do not give rise to issues like
accumulation of dust and/or sand, common in groundmounted installations. Therefore, periodic maintenance, which includes activities such as module cleaning and site cleaning, is done only four times a year for a small-scale plant and 28 times a year for a mid-scale plant.
We are upbeat about the sector’s potential to grow, and our respondents foresee an increase in employee strength in the coming three years. An interesting observation from our case-study is the possibility of additional employment prospects for local boatmen in project sites. Since the FPV project is primarily accessed by a boat, for carrying out installation and maintenance activities, the developers and EPCs can outsource these services to the local community living close to the water body. Although the number of jobs created would be small, it surely opens up an additional source of livelihood.
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