Shri Sanjay Dubey

“By demonstrating our prowess in renewable energy technology, we have affirmed that India has truly arrived. This isn’t just about national pride; it’s about signaling to the world that we are at the forefront of sustainable energy solutions,” shared Shri Sanjay Dubey, IAS, Principal Secretary Home Department, Government of Madhya Pradesh, while speaking about the world’s largest floating solar park in Madhya Pradesh in an exclusive interview with Shudhanshu Mishra of Elets News Network (ENN).

Shri Sanjay Dubey has also served as Principal Secretary of the Energy Department of the Government of Madhya Pradesh and was associated with the building of the world’s largest solar park in the state.

Could you please elaborate on the inspiration behind the decision to establish the world’s largest floating solar park on the Narmada River in Madhya Pradesh?

India has shown remarkable progress in establishing renewable energy plants, whether they are solar or wind energy. What began with basic solar parks has evolved into sophisticated installations, overcoming initial technological challenges. Today, our capabilities are finely honed, with only localised hurdles remaining to be addressed. The idea behind establishing this was to prove our commitment to realising the dream of becoming a net zero-emitter nation.

This initiative not only underscores our national dedication but also showcases the innovative spirit of states like Madhya Pradesh, which are spearheading efforts to ensure the proliferation of renewable energy plants. It’s a testament to our collective determination to lead by example on the global stage.

We have affirmed that India has truly arrived by demonstrating our prowess in renewable energy technology. This isn’t just about national pride; it’s about signaling to the world that we are at the forefront of sustainable energy solutions. Despite challenges faced even by more developed nations, India persists in its pursuit of energy independence through renewable sources, leveraging the best available methodologies and opportunities.

How does this initiative align with broader objectives for sustainable development and the widespread adoption of renewable energy, both locally and nationally?

In assessing the viability of our solar initiative, we’ve examined three crucial aspects: its alignment with local communities, its benefits on a state level, and its contribution to India’s broader energy goals. When establishing any solar park, a considerable amount of land is required. For every megawatt of plant, roughly two hectares of land are needed. However, land is a scarce resource, so we must explore multiple avenues to find suitable locations for solar panel installations, which is why we opted for floating solar technology.

Since we’re not using land, there’s no displacement of human populations. Consequently, the Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R) issues typically associated with land-based projects are no longer a concern, minimising adverse impacts on local communities.

Also, over the span of 25 years, these plants will require maintenance and operation. To address this need, we’re training members of the local community to become skilled workers for the upkeep of these facilities. Many of these locals, such as fishermen and swimmers, already possess skills relevant to water-based activities, making it a mutually beneficial development. By providing employment opportunities through skill development, we ensure economic empowerment within these communities.

Moreover, the installation of floating solar plants has had no adverse effects on fisheries production. In fact, the slight increase in algae growth associated with these plants has positively impacted fish populations, leading to improved catches.

Considering the limited land resources of our state, Madhya Pradesh, it’s crucial to explore alternative energy sources. Fortunately, our state is blessed with abundant water bodies, thanks to rivers and dams. This presents a vast potential for harnessing renewable energy. By showcasing our technological capabilities and commitment, we can pave the way for future projects in Madhya Pradesh.

Ultimately, the benefits extend beyond our state borders. As the state prospers, so does the nation. This initiative underscores the national government’s commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2070 and reaping the rewards of sustainable resource generation.

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Could you discuss the significance of scientific analyses, such as Bathymetry and Geographical Surveys, in ensuring the success of the project?

Understanding the topography of a landscape extends beyond what meets the eye, delving into the depths beneath the water’s surface. Take, for instance, the challenge posed by this particular dam with a variable depth ranging from 2 meters to 38 meters, where undulations akin to valleys and hills exist beneath the water. So, to study this underwater terrain, bathymetry becomes extremely useful, as it focuses on mapping variations in the bed level of water bodies, encompassing both heights above and below sea level.

Various techniques are used in this process. Sonar technology, whether multi-beam or single-beam, proves instrumental in capturing detailed images of underwater topography. Additionally, methodologies such as LIDAR offer alternative means of observation. These technologies collectively provide comprehensive maps detailing the fluctuating surface of the water body. Despite the intricacies involved, achieving precise mapping down to a few meters or centimeters remains a challenge. The closest anyone has been able to achieve is a grid of 50 by 50 meters. So, it means we only have the complete map of the riverbed in this size.

This detailed mapping is crucial for aligning solar panels optimally. Factors such as wind velocity, flood potential, and stream variations necessitate maintaining consistent panel alignment in the same direction to maximise energy generation. Understanding the underwater topography informs decisions regarding mooring and anchoring systems for the panels. The length of the mooring and anchoring depends on the characteristics of the seabed, determined through bathymetry, whereas geophysical analysis is required to analyse whether mooring can be tethered to the ground through dead weight or screw-in. For instance, solid rock formations may require a different anchoring approach compared to softer substrates like black cotton soil. Geophysical analysis helps determine whether anchoring via dead weight or screw-in is more appropriate. Factors such as water flow dynamics and substrate composition influence this decision-making process.

In essence, the synergy between bathymetric mapping and geophysical analysis is indispensable for effective project planning and execution, ensuring the stability and longevity of renewable energy infrastructure in the face of natural challenges.

What valuable lessons have emerged from this endeavour that could be applicable to similar initiatives elsewhere?

Floating solar presents unique challenges, particularly in our context, as this water body is upstream of a larger one, allowing us control over water flow barring extreme flood events. Several judicial orders have also mandated maintaining a water level between 193 to 196 meters, and it should not exceed that range. With upstream dams in place, we are able to regulate water flow release, helping us adhere to these directives and simplify the design of our anchoring and mooring systems.

However, our project site on the Narmada River poses ongoing challenges. The river’s continuous flow, susceptibility to flooding, and frequent cyclone activity demand robust engineering solutions. Designing floaters and their anchoring & mooring to withstand these environmental pressures is paramount and inherently complex. Yet, we have successfully navigated these challenges and have provided invaluable insights for future endeavours.

Our achievements extend beyond this singular project. We’re currently evaluating 20 other water bodies in Madhya Pradesh for similar initiatives. Three potential sites have been identified for further development, including Gandhi Sagar Dam, Birsinghpur Pali Dam, and Bansagar Dam. Leveraging our experience, we’re forging partnerships with local floater manufacturers, fostering economic growth in the region, and ensuring a steady supply chain for future projects. By embracing floating solar technology, we not only reduce land dependency but also align with government objectives regarding resettlement and rehabilitation efforts.

How did the collaboration among government agencies, private enterprises, and various stakeholders contribute to overcoming challenges encountered during the project’s implementation?

In our approach to executing government programs, we prioritise distributing risks to the entity best equipped to handle them. For instance, responsibilities such as obtaining various permissions like forest clearances, conducting environmental and social surveys, and ensuring the welfare of local communities are shouldered by the state government. This approach creates a plug-and-play environment for private developers, sparing them from unfortunate uncertainties.

All necessary surveys like Requests for Proposals (RFPs), Bathymetry, and Geophysical Survey fall under the purview of the state government. This clarity establishes transparent expectations for developers, freeing them to focus on project optimisation. Since private investors aim to maximise returns on their investments, they take charge of project design, knowing they have the freedom to optimise their investments for maximum production.

To alleviate concerns and foster confidence among developers, we’ve instituted a tri-party agreement, providing security and guarantees of payment for energy generated. This includes measures like letters of credit, advanced credit, and state guarantees, ensuring developers receive timely compensation.

Furthermore, recognising the technological challenges involved, we’ve engaged academic and technological institutions, both domestic and international, such as IITs and renowned international organisations. This collaboration ensures access to cutting-edge technologies and expertise essential for project success. By entrusting each aspect to the most capable stakeholders, we’ve achieved remarkable results, making our project the most cost-effective in the country despite its challenging nature.

Finally, how do you envision the role of renewable energy, particularly solar power, in India’s journey towards self-reliance and the attainment of sustainable development goals?

India boasts an abundance of natural resources that position it uniquely for harnessing solar energy. With approximately 300 days of clear sun cover across most regions, coupled with vast expanses of open land and water bodies, the country stands as a leader in tapping full solar potential. The government’s initiative like PM SURYA, Solar Rooftop Program further catalyzes this potential by promoting rooftop solar installations, ensuring that every industry and resident can contribute to solar power generation.

This strategic combination of utilizing land, water, and rooftops offers a pathway to realising our renewable energy goals. Solar energy emerges as the most cost-effective and reliable source, particularly during daylight hours. Not only is it economical, but it also stands as a clean and sustainable alternative, devoid of pollution and environmental harm.

Solar energy is set to play a pivotal role in India’s journey towards achieving net-zero emissions and generating 50 per cent of its energy from renewables by 2030. Embracing a diverse array of technologies and innovations, such as hybrid solar-wind systems and solar-ocean energy combinations, alongside effective storage solutions like battery and pump hydro storage, will further optimize our energy landscape.

Moreover, fostering collaboration between states to balance peak energy demands and minimize costs ensures that the benefits of renewable energy reach every corner of society. By prioritizing energy security and sustainability without burdening consumers with increased costs, we uphold the principle that affordable power should be accessible to all.

The success story of this project underscores the effectiveness of meticulous planning in stabilizing energy procurement costs. In the last three years in Madhya Pradesh, despite inflation and everything, power procurement costs have not gone up. So, by maintaining tariff stability, we uphold our commitment to delivering affordable and sustainable energy solutions to our citizens. This dual achievement of sustainability and affordability epitomizes our vision for a brighter, greener future for India.


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