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China starts giant solar park

The world’s largest single location solar plant, of 2.2 GW capacity was inaugurated in China’s Quinghai province this month. Built by state owned utility Huanghe Hydropower Development, the massive plant touts a special achievement along with its size . It has been built in the shortest time   among plants of comparable sizes. That single fact is well worth considering, especially when we consider some of the largest solar projects planned worldwide. For these giant projects, markers of both ambition and commitment to renewable energy, the real test would be the time they take to reach completion, from announcement. As we have seen in case of the Indian projects, promise has invariably trumped delivery so far. One hopes these big projects will change the narrative in due time.

  1. Right up on the list of upcoming giants is the  massive 10 GW project of Sun Cable.

The firms planned Australia Asean Power Line (AAPL) solar photovoltaic (PV) plant is a 10 gigawatt array situated close to Elliott in the Northern Territory in Australia.  It is also planning an associated 30GWh storage facility to support the solar farm’s operations, enabling 24/7 dispatch of power to it’s key market, Singapore, where it hopes to meet 20 percent of Singapore’s energy needs by 2027.

​Sun Cable plans to use rapid deployment prefabricated solar arrays built in a proposed Darwin factory.  The prefabricated design materially reduces geotechnical risk during construction. The electricity dispatched from the solar and storage facility will be transmitted to Darwin via an 750 km transmission line.

Submarine HVDC cables will be installed between Darwin and Singapore. At the load centres, there will be large scale batteries that will enable critical storage. The Sun Cable project is just one physical example of the transition Australia seeks to make, which involves retaining its eminent status as an energy exporter, except this time by shifting to green energy , instead of  the massive coal and gas exports that lead its exports basket currently.

2. Joining Sun Cable in sheer size and ambition is India’s very own Solar plant in Gujarat’s Kutch District. The Hybrid Renewable Energy park plans to use primarily solar, and some wind energy installations, for a total capacity of 28,000 MW, or 28 GW minimum. Initial reports had pegged the size at 41.5 GW. Solar will account for over 80 percent of total capacity here. The process of allotting almost 50,000 hectares of land to various developers has already started, although multiple issues remain to be resolved, including the categorisation of the land itself as waste land.

3.Before the Kutch project was the planned was the 7.5 GW Ladakh solar project. The project, to be spread over Leh and Kargil in the now Union territory of Ladakh, was first announced in 2018, and has been making slow progress ever since, mostly due to issues over land acquisition, the toughest hurdle for any large project in the country, across sectors. As the project also requires adequate transmission infrastructure to be set up, that has only made it that much more challenging.

4. Floating solar plants. Another area where announcements have got bigger, but results remain invisible, is the area of floating solar plants in India. It is no secret that thanks to its large reservoirs created due to massive dams, and a canal network , the potential for floating solar is high in India. that is one reason why states like UP (150 MW over Rihand Dam reservoir) or Madhya Pradesh (1 GW on Indira Sagar reservoir) have regularly made announcements, and in case of Rihand, even picked developers for the same. But progress remains slow on these large projects. For now, China again remains the leader with its 150 MW floating solar plant in Anhui what was connected in 2019 .

Another area  that promises to throw up some big surprises, soon, is the corporate C&I market. Between 2016 and 2018, C&I solar accounted for 20 percent of total U.S. solar capacity. Further, projections show that just within the Fortune 1000, C&I customers will need up to 85 GW of renewable energy through 2030, going by commitments to turn to renewable energy in part, or wholly. Even in India, the C&I market holds a lot of potential, accounting for a significant part of total rooftop capacity. That means in markets that are truly open, we could soon see demand aggregators going for massive solar farms. Perhaps even in Kutch, if India’s states get their open access rules in place.

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