Within just a year of the Aditya Birla Group's Solar Power Business being set up, the team has executed two complex, large-scale solar projects in India, gaining valuable expertise and taking a major step forward in Aditya Birla Group’s journey towards energy sustainability. In this article, Mr. Ravi Khanna, CEO, Solar Business, Aditya Birla Group, gives an insight into the projects, the challenges the team faced and how they were overcome.
The sun beams 35,000 times more energy towards our planet than what we currently produce and consume. Some part of this energy — better known as solar radiation — is reflected back into space, but a lot of it is absorbed by the atmosphere and other elements surrounding the inner atmosphere. This energy can be easily harnessed to produce electricity. It is a resource that will not be depleted even after thousands of years.
In contrast, fossil fuel depletion is a global challenge, as these are non-renewable sources of energy. Worse, carbon dioxide emissions by the extensive use of fossil fuel lead to global warming, which can have a disastrous impact on our planet. India — an emerging economy — faces power shortage, but interestingly, the country has abundant renewable natural resources, such as wind and the sun.
The Aditya Birla Group is moving towards sustainability in a focused manner. All its actions are guided by whether it is depleting natural resources or using them responsibly and how it can find new ways to reduce emissions. The Group, for instance, is a world leader in the recycling of aluminium cans. Sustainability makes sound business sense. Moreover, it is about doing the right thing for the future.
Rise and shine
Setting up the Solar Power Business was the first step by the Group to address energy sustainability. Renewable energy, especially solar energy, was identified as a sunrise business opportunity by the Aditya Birla Group in early 2011, when the Solar Power Business team was formed. The team evaluated the complete value chain of solar projects in the country and shortlisted areas that matched the Group's interests. The team's first project was the commissioning of a 5MWp solar power plant at Vituza village in Rajasthan, India. This project came with an exceedingly tight timeline due to tariff applicability restrictions. Analysing the opportunity and its associated risks, and knowing that such a tariff opportunity wouldn't present itself again, the team took the project on, undaunted by the tight deadlines or even the fact that this was their first project.
When the team began work at the site in the third week of May, it was not the best time to be in Rajasthan. The harsh summer months made it nearly impossible to work long hours during the day, but the team had no options. The nights offered scant respite as the sunburnt, sleep-deprived team worked under floodlights to complete the project in time.
The first challenge was the uneven terrain, spread over 26 acres, with sand dunes as high as 50 feet. Flattening it meant moving 3.5 lakh cubic metres of sand. Forty tractors worked simultaneously all day onsite, with a brief respite between 11 am and 4 pm, to lay the foundation for the module mounting structures. Multiple teams worked to average a run rate of 150 foundations a day. It took them almost a month to complete 3,000 foundations.
Raring to go
The team realised quite early that it could not depend solely on the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor. Team members monitored all aspects of the project and were present at the site to supervise quality. Come August, and the team was raring to install the modules, but there was no respite from the unusually heavy rains. The road from Jodhpur to Vituza was cut off by floods; the detour doubled the travel time from Jodhpur, just when the bulk of the supplies had to reach the site.
The next step was the mechanical assembly of the modules and the electrical connection. When the EPC contractor was not able to ramp up mechanical installation, the team arranged for sub-contractors to avoid any delay. This move paid rich dividends as they began clocking 2,500-2,800 modules per day instead of the average daily run rate of 150-200.
In the meantime, the switchyard work and the 11km, 33kV grid from the switchyard to the nearest 132kV substation work was completed. As per plan, one transformer was synchronised with the grid on 14 October. Starting from zero date on 23 May, the project was grid-connected on 14 October, thus meeting connectivity and capacity installation deadlines, and achieving savings against the budgeted capex.
Initial estimates revealed that the team had exceeded expected projected returns. The remaining transformers were synchronised over the next fortnight. The plant, running successfully ever since commissioning, has performed beyond expectations. Estimated to generate 21,235kWh daily, the plant has been delivering a higher performance of 23,500kWh/day consistently ever since stabilisation.
No time to rest
With this experience under its belt, the team lost no time in executing a 15MWp project — three times bigger than the debut project, and to be completed in half the time — in Gujarat. The project was in the Solar Park at Charnka, Patan district, approximately 260km from Ahmedabad. The land was waterlogged and muddy until early October because of the heavy rains. Fortunately, it was relatively flat and did not need much levelling or grading. However, soil characteristics varied from location to location, sometimes within a few metres. Besides, 15,864 pile foundations had to be made for module structure mounting, along with the construction of 14 inverter rooms, a control room and a 66kV switchyard.
The first foundation was dug on 14 November 2011, and the plant needed to be commissioned by 28 January 2012. Multiple contractors were engaged for each job and separate areas earmarked for them. Part of the work was not contracted out, but given to the contractor who finished his work first.
Training and retraining labour on a continual basis was a major task. Moreover, the government had allotted three pieces of land: two adjoining pieces, with a passage for villagers, and a bigger piece across the road. All three land parcels had different characteristics, and multiple foundation designs had to be employed.
Work in the first parcel went off smoothly; on an average, piling work could be ramped up to 400 foundations per day. But bores collapsed soon after drilling in the second and third parcels, affecting the pace of civil work. However, all the foundations were completed by 2 January.
On-time delivery of materials at site was the next biggest challenge. Many of the imported components had to be airlifted. Work proceeded smoothly and team members, vendors, EPC contractors and Spanish engineers worked tirelessly through Christmas and New Year holidays to meet the deadline.
Excellence in execution
Execution of a 15MWp plant in less than three months exemplifies the combined designing, planning, and execution expertise of the team. The numbers are astounding: it required 15,864 pile foundations for the installation of 63,456 numbers of 235Wp modules. The mounting structure has provision for a seasonal tilt to capture maximum radiation and maximise generation. Twenty-eight central inverters, 500kW each, are housed in 14 inverter rooms and feed power to a 1,250kVA transformer. There are 141 250kVA transformers connected in a ring, stepping up voltage from 400V to 11 kV. Finally, the combined output of all the transformers is stepped up by the main transformer to 66kV level for feeding the grid through a 66kV switchyard.
In order to track procurement and contracting, a model mapped the entire procurement process from floating inquiry to delivery at site with weightages as per importance. All items and contracts were available on a single sheet, and a single scorecard provided daily progress. Visits to vendors' facilities for inspection, advance arrangements for unloading the trucks at site and distributing materials as they were unloaded, helped to cut down time. The Solar Power Business core team and the EPC contractor had daily conference calls to raise red flags and prioritise actions.
Ninety per cent of the work was completed by 24 January. Because of the 28 January deadline, everyone, including government officials, worked on 26 January, the Republic Day. All the statutory inspections were carried out in the last two days, and after receiving the clearances, the plant was synchronised on 27 January, a day before the deadline.
More power to solar power
The plant location has a Global Horizontal Irradiance of 5.305kWh/m2/day, and is expected to generate 23.25 million kWh of electricity annually. This will mitigate 18,600 tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year. At 600kWh per capita power consumption in India, it can supply power to 38,750 persons or about 9,500 families. In fact, both the solar projects in Rajasthan and Gujarat are top ranking in terms of output.
The team has successfully commissioned its largest project so far — a 22MWp capacity project in Bhadla Solar Park, Jodhpur district, Rajasthan. The business has grown to over 20 employees and has established assets worth Rs.400 crore with another Rs.250 crore in deployment, positioning itself to become one of the leading solar developers in the country.
Dr. Pragnya RamGroup Executive President, Corporate Communications & CSRAditya Birla Management Corporation Private LimitedAditya Birla Centre, 1st Floor, 'C' WingS.K. Ahire Marg, WorliMumbai 400 030.
91-22-6652 5000 /2499 5000
Fax: 91-22-6652 5741/ 42