Thursday, 15 March 2012

Is Solar Energy (PV) really affordable?

The most frequented question we come across is whether Solar Energy is affordable. Affordability comes into picture with 2 aspects - Need and Alternative. The need aspect is about the need for stable electrical power. While the alternative aspect is the grid power - in case there is a grid or alternatively DG Sets.

Looking at the Need aspect first- electrical power is a basic requirement for anyone and everyone. Especially for a growing Country like India more power would be needed with increased affordability. Nearly 40% of the household are without power today and the peak deficit is in the range of 12-15%. Let alone power availability many of the rural areas are not even electrified. So then if all the areas are electrified the peak deficit could be a much higher number. So the need for electrical power is certainly there - in semi urban areas which suffer from blackouts / brownouts and rural areas where there is no electrification at all. In fact even some of the Tier-1 cities (except Mumbai) suffer power problems especially during Summers. There is certainly a growing need for power and stable one at that.

[Suggested Read - What you should know before going Solar !]

With regards to Alternative - what exactly is alternative to Solar PV? Wind? Biomass? Hydro? All of them have some or the other issues and that is precisely the reason Solar PV scores above all of the renewable technologies. If one is resistant to changing over from grid power to Solar PV then we suggest that Solar PV is not a replacement for grid but complementing the grid power. With soaring Diesel prices + pollution + maintenance + operational costs people have now realized that DG sets are not a good power option. In fact cost of power generation from Solar PV is much lower than that from DG set. With earlier prediction grid parity for Solar PV was to be achieved by 2015 which is now revised to 2012/13. (To know about Grid parity please check our Solar PV FAQs)

Antagonist of Solar PV also suggest that Solar Energy cannot work without subsidies or Government incentives. Nothing else can be farther from truth. With recent bidding for Solar PV Projects for prices as low as INR 7.0 to INR 7.5 per unit and Grid power at nearly INR 5.0 to INR 6.0 per unit and in some cases even INR 7.0 to INR 8.0 per unit - Solar PV can easily survive without subsidies or incentives. How?

[Suggested Read - Does Energy Audit really Save Energy?]

Consider the following :
  • Solar PV is one-time investment and the prices have come down significantly.
  • There are nearly zero or no-maintenance cost associated with Solar PV.
  • Solar PV critical components have a life of 20-30 years.
  • Grid power prices are on the rise with another recently announced another rise of 33%.
  • With increased awareness about benefits of Solar PV the demand for PV is expected to rise further resulting in further reduction in PV Project costs.
The bottomline - Solar Photo Voltaic is truly affordable. It may have already been affordable in some areas where grid power price is quite high. Or for some of the Industries or Commercial Complexes where DG set is being used. As the Government subsidy is quite attractive any incentive or subsidy should be considered a boon for the project maximizing returns and minimizing payback period.

We also suggest a quick read of our Post on Solar Energy which is about General Information on Solar Energy especially Solar Photo Voltaic its working and suitability for Indian conditions. For basic information you may visit our post on Solar Energy Facts.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

What is Solar Energy? Solar Energy - FAQs

What is Solar Energy?

Solar Energy is one of the most talked about Energy sources in the Global Energy scenario especially in European and North American regions. Germany has installed more than 30 GW (30,000 MW) already which forms more than 5% of its total power consumption. A Solar-rich Country like India cannot be far behind and the interest is certainly picking up.

The term Solar Energy is frequently used to refer to Solar PV Power Projects. Although Solar Energy is a broad term and consists of Solar Thermal Energy and Solar PV Energy. Amid all the discussions, curiosity, hypes, myths etc. the attention or focus is generally more on the negative aspects and doubts on Solar Energy especially on Solar Photo Voltaic and its applicability. In this post we attempt to answer some of the most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Solar Energy especially on Solar Photo Voltaic. (You are free to post your queries or views in the comments section below).

(a) Can Solar Energy work across all the locations in India?
Yes, Solar Energy is suitable for most parts of India as can be seen in the Solar radiation map. The main focus is on Solar radiation for which GHI and DNI figures are used. As can be observed in the Solar radiation map these figures for India ranges from 4.0 to 6.5 or more and is thus much better than global average. The output (kWh / Units) for Solar Energy Power Project will vary  from location to location but is in general very good and hence Solar Energy is certainly a workable option across India.

(b) Can Solar Energy work without a battery backup?
Yes, Solar Energy can work without battery backup. Batteries are not necessarily needed for backup unless the Photo Voltaic project is used for feeding power to a setup or a complex or households in a rural area which have no grid connectivity at all. As such Solar Energy is a broad term and if it refers to Solar Thermal energy Power Project then backup for thermal energy storage is needed. It is no wonder that Solar Photo Voltaic is gaining more popularity than Solar Thermal due to its simplicity, ease of operations and excellent life (25-30 years) as can be seen in this Post.

[Others are reading - What is Energy Audit Report?]

(c) Can Solar Energy work in the rain or foggy conditions?
Yes, Solar Energy can work in the rain. There are 2 types of radiations that Solar Photo Voltaic works on - Direct Radiation and Diffused Radiation. During the rainy season or foggy weather diffused radiation is still available although direct radiation would be reduced. During such times the output may marginally drop a bit. In fact Pune (Maharashtra) which receives good annual rainfall is where Tata has installed a 2 MW PV Solar Power Project and the output is very good.

(d) Is Solar Energy really affordable?
Solar Energy - specifically Solar Photo Voltaic is indeed quite affordable. Primary reasons are significant fall in Photo Voltaic Solar prices and consecutive increase in grid prices. Details about the same can be seen in our Post on Affordability of Solar Energy.

(e) Does Solar Energy require a huge area?
Not really. Area required for Solar Photo Voltaic Power Project varies from 3.5 Acres to 7.0 Acres per MW of Installation depending on Technology. Considering the fact that Solar PV does not require active involvement or water for operations the sites can be in far-off locations. There is indeed a huge availability of arid land which is otherwise un-utilized and can be effectively utilized for PV Solar Power Projects. In case of Industrial plants huge rooftops can be utilized for installation of PV Solar Panels.

(f) Does Solar Energy using PV technology rely on temperature for operations?
Solar Photo Voltaic works on Light energy of the Sun i.e. when Photons strike the Cells within the PV Modules - they let the electrons loose which then flow in one direction generating electrical power in the other direction. It is depicted in the diagram in this post. Hence PV does not rely on temperature for its operation. However depending on technology the output may vary a bit at extreme temperatures as every type of PV Cell has a NOCT known as Nominal Operating Cell Temperature - the standard of verifying the quality of cell.

Our detailed view on Affordability of Solar Energy is shared in a separate Post. 

The limited and slow growth of Solar Energy can be attributed to the the Myths about Solar Energy (our other Post - Top 5 Myths about Solar Energy) which leads to misinformation and misconceptions about Solar Photo Voltaic or Solar Energy in general.

Further information related to Solar Energy or Solar Photo Voltaic or Energy Conservation is on other blogs posts.