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Sunday, 14 September 2014

Do we need the World’s largest single location Solar Electricity Power Plant?

Ambitious target of  Solar Power:

The country is set to become a global leader in solar electric energy production and has an ambitious target of installing 22000 MW of capacity by 2022. This target has been revised to 1,00,000 MW. 

Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has envisaged setting up of large scale Solar Power Plants in India in the 13th Five Year Plan (FYP). These solar power plants will be known as Ultra Mega Solar Power Plants (UMSPP) and will be set up in the desert and wastelands of Sambhar (Rajasthan, 4000 MW), Kharaghoda (Gujarat, 4700 MW), and Leh/Kargil (J&K, 2400 MW).

Sambhar Ultra Mega Solar Power Plant:

The solar plant at Sambhar Lake, is the first of the four UMSPP projects conceived by MNRE and Ministry of Power (MoP) in the year 2013. MoU has been signed for setting up the Solar Power Plant, with a total installed capacity of 4000 MW, near Sambhar Lake, in Rajasthan (India). The plant is proposed to be set up in a time span of 7 years. When fully commissioned, this would become the largest single location solar electricity generation in the world. The plant is expected to generate 6,000 million kWh of electricity each year and with a life span of 25 years, it is set to offset nearly 4 million tonnes of Carbon Dioxide annually. 

The proposed site has plain surface and the required basic infrastructural facilities such as road approach etc. Also the transmission and distribution system is very much there as claimed by the Solar Energy Corp. of India (SECI).

This solar Photovoltaic (PV) power plant is a joint venture of 6 companies and requires about 9000 hectares of land which is to be provided by Sambhar Salts Ltd. (SSL) whereas the equipments are to be provided by Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd.(BHEL). The arrangement for evacuation of electrical energy, to be produced from this UMSPP, is the responsibility of POWERGRID whereas sale of energy is proposed through SECI. The project manager is Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd. (SJVNL) and the operation and maintenance is to be done by Rajasthan Electronics and Instrumentation Ltd. (REIL). The first phase of 1000 MW was to be set up by 2016.

Ecology around the Sambhar Salt Lake: 

Sambhar Salt Lake is declared as a protected site of international importance. Experts say that the wetlands support large biological diversity, provide groundwater recharge, and help to control erosion and flood. The proposed Solar Power Plant is expected to cover nearly 40% of the Sambhar Salt Lake, the lake which attracts 70 species of migrant birds and is the second largest breeding ground of Flamingo birds in India. In the year 1982-83 nearly 5,00,000 flamingo birds visited the lake. Flamingo are tall birds, come in flocks and require large area for feeding and breeding. 

This proposed project could be seen as a step ahead in this direction and can be seen as a great success if it is completed without disturbing the fragile ecology around. Promoters of the project believe that the solar power plant can coexist with wetland ecology. 

Several experts are against the decision. If the growth in solar energy capacity addition is at the cost of polluting and damaging this wonderful ecology around, then, do we need such projects?