Solar parks enable states to meet their policy targets for solar power, play a role in reducing India’s carbon footprint, promote high-end technology investments, provide employment and empower local communities.
Starting with the Charanka Solar Park in Gujarat, and closely followed by the Bhadla Solar Park in Rajasthan, solar parks have emerged as a powerful mechanism for the rapid development of solar power projects in the country.
What Is A Solar Park?
A solar park is a large chunk of land developed with all necessary infrastructure and clearances for setting up of solar projects.
The capacity of solar parks is generally 500 MW and above. However, smaller parks (up to 20 MW) are also considered in states or Union Territories (UTs), where contiguous land may be difficult to acquire in view of difficult terrain and where there is acute shortage of non-agricultural land.
Why India Needs Them
Solar power projects can be set up anywhere in the country, however the scattering of solar power projects leads to higher project cost per MW and higher transmission losses.
Individual projects of smaller capacity incur significant expenses in site development, drawing separate transmission lines to nearest substation, procuring water and in creation of other necessary infrastructure.
It also takes a long time for project developers to acquire land, get change of land use and various permissions, etc, which delays the project.
To overcome these challenges, the concept of solar parks was introduced. Solar parks provide solar power developers with a plug-and-play model, by facilitating necessary infrastructure like land, power evacuation facilities, road connectivity, water facility etc, along with all statutory clearances.
The solar parks not only enable the states to meet their policy targets for solar power, but the clean power generated by these solar projects play a role in reducing India’s carbon footprint, promote high-end technology investments, provide employment and empower local communities.
The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) rolled out the scheme “Development of Solar Parks and Ultra Mega Solar Power Projects” in December 2014.
Under this scheme, it was proposed to set up at least 25 solar parks, each with a capacity of 500 MW and above with a target of over 20,000 MW of solar power installed capacity in a span of five years from 2014-15 to 2018-19.
Further, the capacity of the solar park scheme was enhanced in 2017 from 20,000 MW to 40,000 MW. To achieve this target, at least 50 solar parks each with a capacity of 500 MW and above were to be set up by 2019-20. Later, in March 2021, the ministry extended the timeline to develop the solar parks totalling 40 GW from 2019-20 to financial year (FY) 2023-24.
The solar projects may then come up as per demand and interest shown by developers. Recently, the ministry has modified its guidelines for the development of solar parks in the country.
Progress Made So Far
Capacity approved: based on the proposals received from the states, 52 solar parks with a cumulative capacity of 37.92 GW has been approved to 14 states up to November 2021. These solar parks are at different stages of development.
Commissioned capacity inside solar parks: solar power projects of an aggregate capacity of around 9.2 GW have already been commissioned in these parks.
The top four operational solar parks in India, as of November 2021, include Bhadla Solar Park in Rajasthan, Pavagada Solar Park in Karnataka, Kurnool Solar Park in Andhra Pradesh, and Rewa Solar Park in Madhya Pradesh.
Bhadla Solar Park which is located in Bhadla, a dry and sandy region in Rajasthan, is the largest solar power park in the world and spans 14,000 acres. There are over 10 million solar panels at the park, which contribute to an operational capacity of 2,245MW.
Pavagada solar park in Karnataka with 2,050MW of operational capacity is the second largest industrial solar park in the world. The project, also called Shakti Sthala, is spread across 13,000 acres in Karnataka’s Tumkur district. The facility has been developed by the Karnataka Solar Power Development Corporation Limited (KSPDCL), a joint venture between Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Limited (KREDL) and the Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI).
The 1,000 MW Kurnool solar facility is India’s third largest operational solar project and one of the earliest completed ultra-mega solar parks. The project was set up within two years by Andhra Pradesh Solar Power Corporation (APSPCL) through a joint venture with the SECI, Andhra Pradesh Generation Corporation and New and Renewable Energy Development Corporation, at an investment of more than Rs 7,143 crore ($943m).
The 750 MW Rewa Ultra Mega Solar Power Project (Rewa UMSPP) is spread over an area of 1,590 hectares in Rewa district of Madhya Pradesh. The project boasts of a unique structuring and is having two power procurers, namely, Madhya Pradesh Power Management Company Limited (MPPMCL) and Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC). The plant has started production from June 2018 and has been in commercial production from July 2018. The total capacity of 750 MW was commissioned on 3 January 2020.
The other solar parks are in Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala, Odisha, Telangana, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Solar parks have also been approved in northeastern states, such as Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram.
World’s Largest Announced Solar Park @ Dholera, Gujarat
Around 80km from Ahmedabad, Gujarat aims to establish India’s largest 5,000 MW solar park at Dholera Special Investment Region (DSIR), and part of the centre’s flagship Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. The ambitious project will be located on 11,000 hectares of land along the Gulf of Khambhat in the DSIR. The land used for this solar plant is Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Type 1[B], suitable for renewable energy generation, and thus, obviating the need for purchasing special land.
In the light of solar power tariffs reaching a record low of Rs 1.99/unit, Gujarat will conduct another auction for 700 MW of solar power plants to be built in Dholera, even as these projects were earlier auctioned.
Floating Solar Park
NTPC Renewable Energy Limited (NTPC REL), a 100 per cent subsidiary of NTPC, has received the go-ahead from the ministry to set up 4,750 MW renewable energy park at Rann of Kutch in Khavada, Gujarat. This will be India’s largest solar park to be built by the largest power producer of the country.
NTPC REL has been given the go-ahead by MNRE on 12 July 2021 under Mode 8 (Ultra Mega Renewable Energy Power Park) of Solar Park Scheme. NTPC REL has plans to generate green hydrogen on a commercial scale from this park.
Further, a 100 MW Floating Solar Project on the reservoir of Ramagundam Thermal Power Plant, Telangana is in the advanced stage of implementation.
The solar parks are developed in collaboration with the state governments and their agencies, CPSUs, and private entrepreneurs. The park developers are designated as Solar Power Park Developer (SPPD). The government has identified eight modes (shown in the table below) for selection of SPPDs.
Projects of any solar technology may come up in the solar park. The flexibility in choosing technology by the project developer ensures adoption of cost effective and state-of-the-art technology which is commensurate with the dynamic requirements of the project.
The developer has to enter into power purchase agreements (PPAs) with central utilities/state utilities/discoms/third parties/captive users who are willing to buy power from the developer.
The tariff for the sale of power through PPAs could be either based on the tariff determined by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC)/State Electricity Regulatory Commission (SERC) or as determined through tariff-based competitive bidding (TBCB) mode.
Ultra Mega Renewable Energy Power Parks
The major challenge in development of solar parks is the acquisition of land. In order to overcome this challenge, the ministry has recently introduced a new mode ‘Mode-8’ namely Ultra Mega Renewable Energy Power Parks (UMREPPs) for development of solar parks.
In this mode, the state government has to provide necessary assistance to the SPPDs in identification and acquisition of land for developing renewable energy (RE) based UMPPs with solar/wind/hybrid and also with storage system, if required and also to facilitate all required statutory clearances.
For this, the state government may be paid a facilitation charge of Rs 0.05/unit of power being generated from the projects in the UMREPPs for the entire PPA period of the project.