According to reports, Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI), a newly formed public sector company, plans to call for bids for four pilot solar thermal power projects, requiring an investment of about Rs 2,555 crore. The projects have been sanctioned viability gap funding (VGF) of Rs 1,020 crore and the bidders who seek the least funding will bag the projects.
SECI will throw these projects for international competitive bidding in a year. It is targeting a tariff of Rs 5.83 per kWhr, fixed over a 25-year period. The projects will be of varied technologies (within solar thermal) and will come up in Gujarat (35 MW), Rajasthan (40 MW), Tamil Nadu (25 MW) and Andhra Pradesh (20 MW).
The new projects are in line with SECI’s mandate to foster the development of technology. While the Rajasthan project will experiment with a hybrid cooling system, the one in Gujarat will try to work at higher operating temperatures, of over 500 degrees Celsius. The other two plants will seek to develop technologies for extended hours of heat storage.
Solar thermal, unlike solar photo voltaic (PV), focuses sunlight on to a point or a channel containing a special oil, making it hot. The heat is used to produce steam that turns the turbines. Solar PV, on the other hand, produces power when sunlight falls on the panels. Solar thermal projects are today struggling to compete against solar PV projects, as the cost of PV panels has come down drastically over the past few years.
Under the National Solar Mission, seven solar thermal projects of total capacity of 500 MW were awarded through a competitive bidding route. These projects were supposed to have been completed this month; so far none has been. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has given the project developers one more year’s time to complete their projects.