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SURYA NAMASKAR Aspiring a viable energy solution
We are a nation hungry for power, politically and socially! Okay, let’s cut the wisecrack and focus on what we are short of: ‘electricity’. For a nation of a billion plus that aspires to be a modern and developed economy, here are some stunning statistics. • We suffer from a major shortage of elec
WE ARE A nation hungry for power, politically and socially!
Okay, let’s cut the wisecrack and focus on what we are short of: ‘electricity’.
For a nation of a billion plus that aspires to be a modern and developed economy, here are some stunning statistics.
•    We suffer from a major shortage of electricity generation capacity, although we are the
      world’s fourth largest energy consumer.
•    Of the 1.4 billion global citizens who have no access to electricity, 300 million live in
•    While the installed capacity is 209 GW, the peak load supply is 125 GW and the peak
      load demand is 140 GW throwing up a gap.
Renewable energy should provide us with the solution; more so, since it now represents only 12 per cent of our total installed capacity.

Look up to the sun, for hope

Coal, oil and natural gas are the principal sources of energy. But the trouble is that they are finite. Given the frenetic pace at which we consume, at some point or other, in the near future, they are bound to deplete. Yes, they could hit zero.
Okay, coal is perhaps available in plenty today. But it is not environment - friendly. It builds  up carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And as anyone who has gone through sciences in school would know carbon dioxide is not good for human health. If we want to look for long-term solution, we should look no further than solar energy! Boy, it’s environmentally clean, it’s original and it’s transmitted from the sun to the earth directly. Can you ask for more?

So, how do we access solar energy? Well, there are two ways of doing that; passive and active. Passive access is one where we use the sun’s heat to structure the way we live. Like, farmers follow sun waves and monsoon patterns to plan their farming. Like, if you lead a sedentary life style you might develop a vitamin D deficiency for which the solution is a walk under the sun! Active access is about science and technology; here we tap the sun’s heat, store it, and finally use it at a time and place of our convenience; of course essentially for electricity.

Harnessing solar power...

The demand for power will grow as India seeks to claim its rightful place under the sun (pun unintended) through sharp growth in its GDP. If we want to be a major economic powerhouse, a comprehensive response to boost power supply is needed. We are, in one sense a lucky nation. We have abundant solar radiation all year around.

It’s therefore time that we harness solar electric power big time in order to bring about large-scale enhancement of the quality of life in the country.  Let’s see how explain how this works.

Sunlight contains energy. When sunlight hits an object the energy turns into heat. It’s just like the warmth we feel while sitting under the sun. When the same sunlight hits certain materials, the energy turns into an electrical current which we can harness for power. One such material is silicon crystal. It turns light energy into electricity, but is pretty expensive. Newer materials use smaller, cheaper crystals that can be shaped into flexible films. This “thin-film” solar technology, however, is not as good as silicon at turning light into electricity.

To produce electricity through solar energy you need solar panels that will be used to absorb the sun’s energy. Solar panels are constructed from semi-conductive material with the most common material of choice being silicon. The semi-conductive materials contains electrons, which will naturally just stay there not doing anything. When photons (contained within the suns rays) hit a solar cell, the electrons contained in the solar cell material absorb this solar energy, which transforms the electrons into conduction electrons. If the energy of these photons is great enough then the electrons are able to become free and carry an electric charge through a circuit to the destination.

The efficiency of electricity producing solar panels is of key concern for many consumers. Any electrons contained within the solar panels that do not receive enough energy will lower the efficiency  and hence solar panels are more suited to sunnier areas. The lowering in efficiency is down to two main factors. One the cell is not working to its full potential, as some electrons may be lost. Two, when the electrons release heat, the panel warms which can interfere with other components contained on a solar panel.

More the solar cells higher the output of electricity. Another factor, which affects solar panel efficiency, is location. Solar cells should always be facing the direction of
the sun, and have no objects blocking the sun’s rays.

There are several types of technologies that can be used to harness solar energy. Two of them deserve mention: photovoltaic and concentrated solar thermal.

Photovoltaic systems (PV) are semi-conductor devices that directly convert solar energy to electricity. PV systems can be installed on rooftops. Even though the capital expenditure is high, the operating expenses are low. Plus there is long-term durability and reliability. PV is increasingly seen as a viable alternative for electricity generation – growing in volume globally second only to wind power among renewable energy technologies. However, industrial users are increasingly interested in solar technologies that are rapidly scalable.

Concentrated Solar Thermal Power (CSP) involves power generation by concentrating solar energy to generate steam and drive turbines. Sun’s rays are reflected to a large central tower, in which water is turned into steam to drive conventional turbines for generating electricity. An advantage of CSP systems is the ability to run combined cycle plants with natural gas.

Solar electricity benefits

Here is the string of benefits that flow from solar electricity
  • You can cut off your electricity bills. Remember sunlight is free. So once the initial capital expenditure is incurred, electricity costs can come down drastically.
  • Looking for more? You can get paid for the electricity you generate. The government’s Feed-In Tariffs pay you for the electricity you generate, even if you use it. That’s like having the cake and eating it too.
  • You can sell the electricity back to the grid. If you are producing more electricity than you need, or when you can’t use it because say you are travelling, you can sell the surplus back to the grid.
  • You will be doing the world a favour since you will be cutting your carbon footprint. Remember, solar electricity is green and renewable. A typical home solar PV system could save a tonne of carbon dioxide per year.

Fiscal incentives

The financial economics depend on the capital cost, government incentives in the form of capital subsidy, asset life, and cost reduction, to name a few key factors.  Today, the government offers capital subsidy in the region of 30 per cent of capital cost if the asset is manufactured  indigenously. Then there is special depreciation of 80 per cent, amongst the highest in the India. The asset is expected to last 20 years and rooftops can produce about 100 units a day. Still at these numbers, the ROI isn’t exciting but then there is this pleasure of contributing to the nation’s green initiatives.

Sunrise industry: the future.

India is a tropical country. That means it has huge potential for generating solar power. With the right incentives and policy India can become a major player in the solar market globally.

There is a view that with rising innovation, falling price of solar panels and shooting coal prices could mean that sooner than later solar power cost per unit could match electricity cost.  In only two years, solar tariffs have more than halved from Rs 17.91 a unit to nearly Rs 7.5 a unit largely due to falling solar panel prices worldwide. By 2015, the equivalent cost of solar power would fall to almost Rs 4.2 per unit, making solar power competitive in states that have high electricity tariffs.

India targets for 22,000 MW of solar capacity by 2022, and hence the government has come up with a slew of subsidies and guaranteed long-term competitive rates for solar power. While the incentives are for local purchases, international equipment procurements could turn cheaper.

Until recently, banks were hesitant to lend to solar projects, fearing risk of receivables and fall in tariffs in future. However, an operating track record of over 1000MW solar projects (providing a feel of asset performance) has led to lowered risk perception. Also, developers today have access to cheaper international sources of financing, which help bring down their costs further.

In India, per capita land availability is low. What would work is individual rooftop power generation systems, all connected via a local grid. But that would throw up the challenge of economies of scale. This would therefore mean that technology costs have to crash for an average family to find it attractive. That could happen as in  mobile telephony.

There are some interesting projections. By 2020, there will be cost parity between solar energy and conventional grid power. If successful, this initiative will far exceed India’s plans for nuclear power generation and dwarf current solar energy leaders in domestic market size and export manufacturing.  By 2050, solar energy alone will produce 1.3 times the current energy production of the country. And for all that to happen we need to act at our individual levels.       


TN’s mission solar power

IN THE WEEK beginning 12 May we had a pleasant surprise: for a couple of days Chennaites were free from the normal two-hour power cut during the day! Thanks to the 3000MW of wind power from the southern and western Tamil Nadu.

This followed the three-day RENERGY 2013 conclave at the Chennai Trade Centre organised by Tamil Nadu Energy Development Agency (TEDA) supported by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE). The event focused on promoting renewable energy across the country. The event brought together over 200 companies, 2000 professionals that included CEOs, technical experts, policymakers and regulators and an estimated 20,000 visitors who deliberated on renewable energy.

Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa outlined her vision of making Tamil Nadu a world leader in renewable energy. Already with an installed capacity for wind energy of 8000 MW, the state accounts for 40 per cent of national capacity.

Tamil Nadu has been promoting vigorously other non-conventional energy sources including solar power and biomass simultaneously concentrating on energy efficiency. Like the mission launched by Jayalalithaa in her earlier term as chief minister on rainwater harvesting, the present mission is on tapping solar energy.

There is a welcome coordinated approach. Last year, Dr Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Director-IIT, Madras, floated the concept of harnessing solar power for providing energy security. He pointed out: “Solar PV based power is the only solution available almost throughout the year. Most homes/offices have more than enough roof area to generate the required power.” He said that agriculture and residential buildings that consume 45 per cent of total power, can harness solar power effectively and provide relief to the present burden on centralised generation.

Chairman and Managing Director – TEDA, Sudeep Jain and his team of officials deserve credit for organising the exhibition and the high quality workshops that attracted wide participation. Senior policymakers and regulators including Dr Pramod Deo (Chairman, CERC), Tarun Kapoor (Joint Secretary, MNRE) and several business leaders/CEOs like Madhusudan Khemka (ReGen Powertech), Ramesh Kymal (Gamesa) and Sunil Jain (Hero Future Energies) shared their expertise. There was wide interest from industry leaders like L&T, Moser Baer, Aeon and Sun Edison.

The Tamil Nadu government has come out with a detailed policy for solar energy, offering special incentives. These sound quite attractive. One hopes these will be crystallised and made available without hassle to the average consumer. One also hopes that mission solar power will be implemented ASAP just as mission RWH was accomplished. 

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