Sunday, 20 November 2011

Solar Energy - Today & Tomorrow !

Solar Energy - Today & Tomorrow !

Utilization of Solar Energy dates back to several decades when technology advancements proved utilization of Solar Energy could be done for heating purposes, power small devices (watches, calculators etc.) and certainly powering remote satellites during their long journey away from any power stations.

More popularly Solar Energy is presently used for water heating - both at domestic and industrial level, drying especially at Industrial level, use of PV Solar applications such as Street lighting, Signals, Lanterns etc. However PV Solar Power Plants - although not a new concept - is a relatively new and emerging concept in India. The technology is well-established globally with Germany (yes Germany) with not so good radiation and Sun availability is already a global leader with installations of about 17 GW.

Antagonist of Solar Energy argue that it is a developing technology, expensive, can only work during the daytime etc. Looking at it the other way - if not PV Solar for power then what? If not Solar Energy for India - then what? Coal is already facing an issue with respect to supply and pricing. With nearly 65% Power generation from Coal does it justify relying on it as a major power source for the long term? Is nuclear the answer? Well it would have been but after not after what happened in Japan in March 2011. The world is giving second thoughts to Nuclear Power Plants with several Countries planning to go Nuclear-free.

The writing on the wall is clear - the way forward for any Country is a Portfolio of Green Energy Sources for Power Generation to supplement the fossil fuels. Depending on the Geographical conditions and further detailing stress should be laid on a particular green technology and should be suitably combined with other green technologies. This does not mean that Renewtechs will completely replace Fossil Fuels - atleast not in the foreseeable future. What it definitely means is that Renewtechs can be and should suitably included as part of the power generation portfolio of a Country based on its geographics and technology viability. For instance Denmark has effectively utilized its Wind Power generation capacity and has pioneered the same. Today it boasts of leading Wind Turbine manufacturers and a well-established portfolio led by Wind power generation.

Similar to a Country a Company or a Plant should also look at developing an effective power portfolio to supplement grid power or fossil fuel captive power. The benefits of doing so are enormous in monetary terms as well as for long-term sustainability. In the Indian context PV Solar offers a Very Good Solution both in terms of Technical Feasibility and Commercial Viability.

In case of India it is no surprise that Solar Energy will prove to be the most utilized source of Green Power. Why? Well reasons are many but to list down the few important ones :
  • Excellent Solar Radiation across the Country 
  • Wind is found only in some pockets - yet India is among Top 5 Wind Power Generation. With the excellent potential in Solar Energy - the capacity installation or growth in this upcoming field is anyones guess.
  • One of the Best Incentive & Subsidy programme under JNNSM to encourage use of Solar Power. This is also to counter the argument that investing in Solar Energy does not result in sufficient payback. Not that Solar energy would need a subsidy scheme all along but any new technology (including Wind) needs an apt policy to support its entry and encourage its use among the masses.
  • Solar scores well above Wind Power (Solar vs Wind Comparison can be requested) and hence will prove beneficial at all levels - for residential use, industrial use, community use, utility use. In fact PV Solar also scores above other renewable technologies.
  • Peak deficit usually occurs in the day - time when most of the Commercial activities take place. Solar presents a very good answer to this problem.
  • It will prove to be the single-most important source of decentralized power system thereby overcoming issues related to infrastructure, rural electrification theft, T&D (or ATC Losses) etc.
  • It can be used closer to human habitat and is highly modular and scaleable - with ZERO maintenance - which no other Renewtech can offer.
The Government (both Central and various States) having realized the benefits of Photo Voltaic Solar have declared various commercial subsidies and incentives to encourage the use of Solar Power. At the National Level JNNSM ensures good subsidy and incentive at every level for small PV power generators, medium scale projects and utility scale projects. Additionally various States - Rajasthan, Gujarat, M.P., Karnataka, T.N.  have also declared their individual Solar policies.

For long Fossil Fuels especially Petrol, Diesel and Kerosene have been heavily subsidized as a populist approach. There is a tremendous shift now - due to Global Pressure and Internal Demand - that a greener approach is the way forward. Owing to this the Government will continue to reduce the subsidy on Fossil Fuels and divert the funds towards Green Solutions - especially Solar Energy. Further rising of fossil fuels is not ruled out and once Coal prices become market-driven then the already high power prices will sky-rocket.

Rather than reaching a point of no-return where Coal has reached exhaustion stage there is an urgent need to look at Alternative Sources of Energy. It is rightly mentioned that alternative sources of energy are no longer alternative. Perhaps Green Energy do have the potential of becoming the mainstream sources of energy if not in the near future then in the coming decades. What needs to be seen is  the best portfolio for India and Indian Industries and Solar Energy will most certainly play the most significant role in the capacity building.

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