Here’s Why Solar Energy Is The Most Sustainable Answer To The Power Crisis

By Mahitha Kasireddi:

From all the parameters that define a country as ‘developed’, energy is the most indispensable and prerequisite factor. If a country is called developed then it directly implies that it consumes a large amount of energy. Our leaders have laid growth targets to 8% to be achieved in the period 2013-17. The present power generation capacity in our country is far from sufficient. Economic growth cannot be postponed or avoided. We need a renewable and sustainable source of energy. In the past five years, technology has advanced and has proven the practical applications of renewable energy sources such as hydropower, wind power and solar power. From these, lately, solar energy is gaining popularity and attention. Sun is the most abundant and perennial source of energy which we can bank upon forever.

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In an effort to advocate the use of solar energy, British Scholars Hyderabad Chapter and British Library presented a talk on the 24th of May 2013 in Hyderabad by T.Harinarayan, Director, Gujarat Energy Research and Management Institute (GERMI). Dr. Harinarayana is an internationally acclaimed scientist and professor known for his contribution to this field. He has chaired number of conferences and presented papers worldwide on energy security and conservation. Since the Andhra Pradesh government has recently devised a solar energy policy, he has arrived to Hyderabad with a whole team along with equipment to demonstrate the application of solar energy. In a crisp 20 minute lecture, the professor had thrown light on the energy demand, advantages of solar energy and performance and proposals of Gujarat’s power generation projects. Following is the full text of the presentation.

The total installation capacity in India is 211 GW (Giga Watt) where as other countries are far ahead of us. The distribution of generation country wide is like this – Thermal (coal, gas and oil) – 140GW, Hydro – 39.5 GW, Nuclear – 4.89 GW (approximate values). These power generation units are unable to produce to their full potential. The basic problem is fuel. There is an acute shortage of fuel due to which both coal and gas based thermal power generations have been impacted. Inland plants in the sector had to resort to imports to meet the requirements. The scale of imports is instrumental in driving up coal prices in Australia and Indonesia. The government has failed in ensuring a stable, dependable and cost-effective fuel supply for power generation. It is due to the above events that solar energy is demanding focus.

What is our energy requirement? In the year 2011-12, our national consumption of energy was 215 GW. As estimated by experts, our consumption demand would scale up to 331 GW in the year 2016-17, 510GW in 2021-22, 785GW in 2026-27 and 1207GW in 2031-32 which 6 times more than present day demand. The astronomical figures project quite an alarming situation ahead.

A single solar plant has the potential to generate minimum of 1250GW and maximum of 2000GW per square meter which is absolutely pollution free, safe and environment friendly as compared to thermal and nuclear power plants. India receives a plenty of sunlight throughout the year and we can totally do away with the fuel issues as faced by the thermal sector. The life span of a solar plant is 25 years after which its efficiency would degrade and it requires replacements of the panels.

A country as small as Germany generated 32GW of power using solar energy alone in the year 2012, considering that only the southern part of the nation receives good amount of sunlight. In Germany, the potential to generate power square km varies from 900-1250 GW, far lower than India. Taking into account the vast geographical extent of India we could be highly energy sufficient nation upon shifting to solar energy.

The prospects of using solar power can possibly only increase due to the discovery and on- going research around Graphine, a thin layer of atom of carbon, an excellent semi-conductor and a cheap material compared to silicon. Once this compound finds its use and application, it would drastically reduce the cost. This material can be used to manufacture thin film sheets to spread over the panels. The thin film technology is most economical and efficient as the sheets are flexible, foldable and easy to handle.

Gujarat has stood successful in churning best out of the renewable sources of energy to generate power. This state generates 3000MW of power using wind mills which is also supplied to other states. By constructing solar parks they generated 900MW, three times more than the rest of the country. Gandhi Nagar has been converted into a solar city by supplying 500MW of solar power. Now, Gujarat has undertaken the responsibility to shape five other cities in the similar way. The engineers at GERMI have experimented with two layer solar panels by placing them one above the other, by this the power generation capacity increased by 1.75 times. Further, by placing plane mirrors at the bottom layer of the upper panel and top layer of the lower panel, they could realize a generation capacity of 40,000 watt hour/day to 70,000 watt hour/day. In households today people buy DC motors such as invertors and batteries to save power, which do not run for long. Installing solar power panels is the best replacement to these but off course we have to have more integrated substations for stand-alone panels.

Proposed project by GERMI- “Solar panels along National Highways”. National Highways (NHWs) connect cities and towns and pass through substations, houses and industrial establishments. Compared to other methods, in this, power could be supplied without any transmission loss. The project also has lucrative prospects for engineers to get employment. For example, let us consider the Ahmebadad – Rajkot NHW, the entire length of the highway cannot be put to use. Leaving the water bodies, crossings and thick vegetation we can use about 195.4 Kms. Upon installing solar panels along this length, 229GW of power could be generated at the rate of approximately 1.2MW per Km. In order to maintain the panels, it could require 8 employees per Km. Therefore, 1Km = 1.2MW = 8 employees i.e. for 194.5 Kms about 35344 people could be employed. Also, with cars running on dual fuel coming in to use, a number of charging stations can be installed for hybrid vehicles.

The basic requirement to install a solar plant is vast land. The land that is used to put up a solar plant cannot be used for any other purpose. Hence, we need population free, non- agricultural or waste land. The optimum location for a solar plant would be: proximity to power grid station to reduce T&D loss, away from forest, water bodies and densely populated regions, proximity to end user location again to reduce T&D loss. Solar power plants erected over canals can also help in saving water by reducing evaporation.

Despite the advancement of technology and number of solar energy developers coming forward, this form of energy is unable to be a bigger player. We do not have a clear cut and attractive national solar policy yet to enable private players to invest. Solar developers do not trust government agencies. Lack of large useful land is another impediment. Saving land has been impossible because of the huge illegal amassing by landsharks patronized by Land Mafia. The government has to prioritize and seriously consider solar energy as a solution to the running power crisis. Surveys all over India shall be conducted to check how much land can be utilized in each state for setting up solar parks/plants. Also, a long term energy security policy and solar policy should be legislated so that a public private partnership can be established to meet the power demand for the growth of the economy.

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