USING THE SUN’S POWER – SOLAR ENERGY

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“We all need to move now into the world of new solar system”, said the famous Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, on findings about the importance of sun and the moon of the Earth. After almost 500 years of his findings, the need for using sun’s energy was in top priority, given the climatic and environmental changes, that has affected our planet for the last 100 years or so. Trees and farmlands are being cleared for rapid urbanisation and development of towns and cities all over the world. All these unscrupulous things contributes to global warming.

In the last few years, scientists and environmentalists have envisioned using alternative sources or renewable sources of energy, as the non-renewable ones are going to be exhausted within 40-50 years. That has forced many governments in power in all countries to add energy policies to their agenda, including the judicious use of alternative sources of energy. Such forms of energy, is unlimited and will not be over, and can be replenished again and again. There are various forms of renewable sources of energy like – wind, solar, geothermal, ocean and tidal waves and so on. But, I am going to emphasise more on solar energy, the most important all-time available energy source, and how we can operate and use it judiciously for our daily activities.

Solar power or solar energy, is the energy emitted from the UV(ultra-violet) rays of the sun, which is harmful for human beings’ skin, but can play a vital role in lighting up solar powered energy devices. The sun is the brightest object in our solar system and gives a huge amount of light. The planets and the moon that we all see sometimes during an evening sky, is due to the reflection of the light emitted from the sun and not from their own light respectively. Hence, using solar power is cost effective and cheaper and reduces carbon emissions and harmful pollutants emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere.

India, being a large country and located near to the Tropic of Cancer, has long daylight hours. It has the highest potential of generating solar radiation. There is bright sunshine throughout the year, mostly in western India and the northern plains. Moreover, India is densely populated and has high solar insolation, which is an ideal combination for using solar power in India.

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In the solar energy sector, some large projects have been proposed, and a 35,000 km area of the Thar Desert and 10,000 km area have been set aside for solar power projects, which is sufficient to generate about 700 to 3000 GW(Gigawatts). On 16th May 2011, India’s first 5 MW of installed capacity solar power project was registered under the Clean Development Mechanism in Sivagangai Village, a small coastal village in Sivaganga district of Tamil Nadu.

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission is a major initiative of the Government of India and the state governments, to promote ecologically sustainable growth while addressing India’s energy security challenges. It will also constitute a major contribution by India to the global effort to meet the challenges of climate change. Named after Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, the mission is one of the several initiatives that are part of National Action Plan on Climate Change. The program was officially inaugurated by Former Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh but its adequate implementation is being carried out by the current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

The objective of the mission is to establish India as a global leader in solar energy, by creating the policy conditions for its diffusion across the country as quickly as possible. The immediate aim of the mission is to focus on setting up an enabling environment for solar technology penetration in the country both at a centralized and decentralized level. The first phase (2012-2016), will focus on capturing of the low hanging options in solar thermal, on promoting off-grid systems to serve populations without access to commercial energy and modest capacity addition in grid-based systems.

In the second phase (2016-2020), after taking into account the experience of the initial years, capacity will be aggressively ramped up to create conditions for up scaled and competitive solar energy penetration in the country. By the end of the third phase in 2024, India will be one of the largest countries in terms of solar radiation generated.

According to a 2011 report by “Bridge To India”, India is facing a perfect storm of factors that will drive solar photovoltaic(PV) adoption at a furious pace over the next five years and beyond. The falling prices of PV panels, mostly from China but also from the USA, has coincided with the growing cost of grid power in India. Government support and ample solar resources have also helped to increase solar adoption, but perhaps the biggest factor has been need. India, as a growing economy with a surging middle class, is now facing a severe electricity deficit that often runs between 10% and 13% of daily need. The country is planning to install the world’s largest solar power plant with 5,000 MW(megawatts) capacity near the Sambhar Lake in Rajasthan.

There are various factors that we need to consider before investing into a solar power plant. A lot of enthusiasm has been seen among young people about the use of solar energy as a substitute of conventional sources of energy. However, currently, with the power subsidies in India, solar power works economical only in those areas that are using diesel generators as a primary source of electricity. The entire payback is made generally in three years.

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Solar system for petrol pumps is a leading example of such an application. The Indian Oil and Coal Limited(IOCL) is leading the race for solarisation of petrol pumps with aggressive targets made by the central government. Solar applications for petrol pumps by “RelyOn” Solar has been installed in more than 150 IOCL petrol pumps across India. Solar installations for commercial buildings, where the electricity rates are higher, are also proving to be a gamechanger for the owners of IT companies.

Utilisation of solar power is done mostly in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and some parts of southern and northern parts of India, where there is adequate sunshine for particular months. Gujarat has been a leader in solar power generation and contributes about 2/3rd of the 900 MW of photovoltaics in the country.

The State has commissioned Asia’s biggest solar park(Gujarat Solar Park) at Charanka Village in Mehsana District of Gujarat. The park is already generating 2 MW solar power out of its total planned capacity of 500 MW. The park has been functioning on a multi-developers and multi-beneficiaries paradigm and has been awarded for being the most innovative and environment-friendly project since its inception in 2008.

With a view to make the state capital, Gandhinagar a solar city, the state government has launched a roof-top solar power generation scheme. Under this scheme, the state plans to generate five MW solar power by putting solar panels on all state government buildings and on 500 private buildings. The state also plans to generate solar power by putting solar panels on the Narmada Canal branches. As a part of this scheme, the State has already commissioned a one megawatt solar plant on a branch of the Narmada Canal near Anand in Gujarat. This also helps by saving about 90,000 litre water/year of the Narmada river from evaporating.

Rajasthan is one of the states of India in the field of solar energy. The total photovoltaic capacity has passed 500 MW, reaching 510.25 MW at the end of the 2012-13 fiscal year. The district of Jodhpur leads the pack with 42 projects totalling 293 MW, followed by Jaisalmer, Barmer and Bikaner. In total, there are 84 projects with an installed capacity of 512.9 MW. The French MNC, the AREVA Solar is currently engaged in constructing a 250 MW concentrated solar power(CSP) installation in Sikar District, which will become the largest CSP installation in Asia.

The Shri Sai Baba Sansthan Trust has the world’s largest solar steam system. It was constructed at the Shirdi Shrine in 2003 at an estimated cost of Rs. 1.33 crores, out of which Rs. 58.40 lakhs was paid as a subsidy by the renewable energy ministry. The system is used to cook 50,000 meals per day for pilgrims visiting the shrine, resulting in annual savings of 1,00,000 kg of cooking gas.

It also has been designed to generate steam for cooking, even in the absence of electricity to run the feed water pump for circulating water in the system. The project to install and commission the system was completed in seven months and the system has a design life of 25 years. A 10 MW solar power plant has been recently installed in Osmanabad, Maharashtra by “RelyOn Solar” as a backup.

The central government has encouraged private solar companies by reducing customs duty on solar panels by 5% and exempting excise duty on solar photovoltaic panels. This is expected to reduce the cost of a roof-top solar panel installation by 15-20%. The budget also proposed a coal tax of US$1 per metric ton on domestic and imported coal used for power generation. Additionally, the government has initiated a Renewable Energy Certificate(REC) scheme, which is designed to drive investment in low-carbon energy projects.

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The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy provides 70% subsidy on the installation cost of a solar photovoltaic power plant in all North-Eastern states and 30% subsidy on other regions. The detailed outlay of the National Solar Mission highlights various targets set by the government to increase solar energy in the country’s energy portfolio.

Using solar energy in rural India is a big boon, especially for the poor and small farmers. Lack of electricity infrastructure is one of the main hurdles in the development of rural India. India’s grid system is considerably underdeveloped, with major sections of its population still surviving off-grid. As of 2014, more than 4000 villages and hamlets has been electrified, mainly using solar photovoltaic systems, as a result.

Developments in cheap solar technology are considered as a potential alternative that allows an electricity infrastructure consisting of a network of local-grid clusters with distributed electricity generation. It could allow bypassing or atleast relieving the need to install expensive, lossy, long-distance, centralized power delivery systems and yet bring cheap electricity to the masses. India currently has around 1.2 million solar home lighting systems and 3.2 million solar lanterns sold or distributed. Also, India has been ranked first in Asia for solar off-grid products.

By 2013-14, a total of 4,600,000 solar lanterns and 861,654 solar powered home lights had been installed in selected rural areas. These typically replace kerosene lamps and can be purchased for the cost of a few months worth of kerosene through a small loan. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy is offering a 30% to 40% subsidy for the cost of lanterns, home lights and small systems up to 210 WP.

About 20 million solar lamps are expected to light every village by 2022. Solar power is complementary to wind power as it is generated mostly during the non-monsoon period in daytime. Solar power plants can be located in the interspace between the towers of wind power plants or in nearby areas with common power evacuation facility.

Majority of the farmers in India depend on good rains for a good harvest of the summer and winter crops. Buying of irrigational facilities is dearer for such farmers. Hence, solar power plays an important role in irrigation, along with providing cheap electricity. The solar PV water pumping systems are used for irrigation and drinking water. The majority of the pumps are fitted with a 200-3000 W motors that are powered with 1,800 WP PV array which can deliver about 1,50,000 litres of water per day from a total head of 10 metres. Solar driers are used to dry harvests before storage. By the end of 2014, a total of 8030 pumping systems have been installed.

Bangalore has the largest deployment of rooftop solar water heaters in India. These heaters generate an energy equivalent of 200 MW. It is also the first city in the country to put in place an incentive mechanism by providing a rebate of Rs. 50 on monthly electricity bills for residents using rooftop thermal systems.These systems are now mandatory for all new structures. Now, other cities are following suit. The Mysore City Corporation has decided to set up a mega solar power plant in the entire city with 50% concession from the Government of India. The Maharashtra State Power Generation Company (Mahagenco) has made plans for setting up more power plants in the state to take up total generation up to 1000 MW.

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The Haryana government is working to replicate the multi-benefit model of renewable power generation of Gujarat by using canal tops and canal banks as potential solar power plants. In 2012, Gujarat was the first state in the world to set up canal-top solar power plants which are successfully generating energy. The government says that installing such plants is very expensive, but the most interesting part is the clean and green efficient form of energy and non-polluting.

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation plans to install rooftop solar power plants at Anand Vihar and Pragati Maidan metro stations and its residential complex at Pushp Vihar. More of them is likely to come up after Phase 3 gets operational in March 2016. Also, Delhi residents can now generate solar power on rooftops and sell it to power distribution companies, or discoms as they are known, to reduce their electricity bills.

The Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission(DERC) had in 2014 announced the net-metering guidelines, allowing consumers to generate solar power for their own use while feeding the surplus into the network of distribution companies. The project begins at six locations in the city – four residential and one commercial building in south Delhi and a school in east Delhi. It would save them atleast between Rs 3000 to Rs 32,000 a month. “Those with a solar power panel installed on the rooftop can use it to run appliances during the day time. At other times, they will use the power from the grid. So, whatever is surplus can be fed into the discom’s network,” DERC chairperson PD Sudhakar said.

With nearly 300 days of sunshine, Delhi can generate 2557 MW power a day by installing solar plants on the available 31 square km of rooftops, a 2013 Greenpeace India report said. It can drastically bring down the city’s power demand which is around 3500 MW per day. The DERC has fixed at Rs 5.5, the cost of buying a unit of solar power, while a unit of thermal power is billed at Rs 3.90 to Rs 71, depending on the slab and consumption. If a user sells more than he consumes, the discoms will credit payment to his account.

BSES have already received 50 applications and around 500 queries for net-metering. According to DERC guidelines, the installation of net-metered rooftop solar systems on consumer premises will utilize the same service line for excess power injection into the grid which is currently being used by the consumer for drawl of power from utility network. This means that if the user likes to have a solar system with the installed capacity more than the sanctioned load, extra charges would be levied for a new line.

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Since, the installation of such systems runs into lakhs, the scheme is better-suited for commercial and government buildings. They not only have high rooftops and undisputed access, they can afford to generate more surplus solar power also. While the Centre provides a subsidy of 30% on solar equipment, the Delhi government discontinued it in 2012. The system is designed such that the switch to solar or grid power is automatic. Meanwhile, the Tata Power Delhi Distribution Limited has announced it will generate 400 MW of roof-top solar power in commercial and industrial buildings by 2022.

So, my final message to all the readers in my blog is – ‘Save Earth, Use Solar’. It will be a great experience for you installing and operating mini solar power plants, as it will be beneficial in the long run, though it has a high raw cost. Do use clean sources of the energy, to keep our planet greener and younger, and not by killing it cruelly and absent mindedly.

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