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Solar energy is one of the first forms of energy discovered by humans. For centuries, we have knowingly and unknowingly been harnessing energy from the sun in various ways for various reasons – to heat, to generate fire, to dry, to light up, and so on – with or without using technology - passively or actively.
Passive Solar Energy is one where we alter our way of creating, planning and living our structures, activities and lives to best utilize sunlight and the heat from it. For example, farmers follow solar and seasonal cycles to plan their farming based on the intensity of the sun and its effects on the monsoon and water patterns.
Active Solar Energy on the other hand is science and technology driven wherein we capture the heat from the sun and reuse it at a time and in a form convenient for us – mainly as electricity.
Solar Energy and the Economy
Energy security and independence along with climate change have become top issues for global leaders. There is broad consensus that countries cannot rely indefinitely on fossil based energy sources and renewable energy sources will need to be developed to meet the growing power requirements.
India has historically been a power deficit country and the demand for power will continue to grow as does its GDP. A comprehensive response to boost power supply is needed to sustain our planned GDP growth rates of 8-10%.
India is blessed with abundant solar radiation all year around. For example, less than 5% of the Thar Desert can provide enough solar energy to meet all of India's energy needs.
The fact is Solar electric power has not been developed on utility scale anywhere until now and it presents an attractive business opportunity as well as the opportunity to provide large-scale enhancement of the quality of life in the country.
SunBorne Energy has been set up to take on the challenge of pioneering the development of utility scale solar power in India - and we could do with all the help and support we can get. Policy support is needed in the short term to incubate this industry. We envisage achieving grid parity by 2014 after which market forces will determine the growth of solar power.
The Bright Side of Solar Energy
(there is no dark side)
While the list of intangibles is endless, the measurable advantages of using solar energy over conventional thermal energy are as follows:
- No depletion of non renewable resources like coal and petroleum
- No power shortage as there is endless supply of Sunlight
- Reduction in Carbon Emissions (Did you know, each country is charged Carbon Taxes on its imports based on the level of Carbon Emissions of the country?)
- No water or air pollution
- Resultant cleaner, greener, healthier environment
- Reduction in life threatening diseases
- Increased life expectancy
- Improved and healthier quality of life leading to reduced hospital and medical expenses
The end result is that if we as people produce and consume more electricity from solar energy, we’re going to be living in a more healthy environment, with more comfort, more savings, and of course with greater life expectancies.
How has the energy landscape evolved?
The solar energy industry has experienced an unprecedented growth in the eight years from 2000 to 2007. Global private investment in solar energy has increased from around $500 million in 2004 to over $12 billion by the end of 2007 (as per the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, USA). This phenomenal twenty-fold increase during a short span of 4 years clearly indicates that solar technologies are fast maturing and narrowing the competition with conventional sources of energy as well as other sources of renewable energy.
India’s power demand has soared with economic growth. Figure 1 refers to the peak power deficit in India. India is heavily dependent on fossil based generation which supplies about 67% of power generated. This translates to ever increasing Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and increasing dependence on foreign supplies. Wind power has dominated the development of renewable energy with current installed capacity of about 10 GW. Solar energy is primarily being used for water heating applications and off grid units. Clearly, capacity mix going forward needs to be changed from current levels to ensure sustainable growth.
Going forward Renewable energy can help address
- Energy security by reducing dependence on energy imports
- Manage GHG emissions and mitigate the impact of global warming
- Quicker deployment of power plants will prevent demand outstripping supply and capacity addition.
- Inflation protected cost of generation with minimal O&M expenses.
What are the different scientific ways to harness solar energy?
There are several types of technologies that can be used to harness solar energy ranging from electric power generation to solar water heating or cooking. The solar technologies for electrical power generally fall into two broad categories: photovoltaic and concentrated solar thermal.
Photovoltaic (PV) Systems: Photovoltaic systems are solid-state semi-conductor devices that directly convert solar energy to electricity. PV systems can be installed as distributed systems on rooftops, or at utility scale in the form of solar farms. Even though the installed cost of PV systems is relatively high, the benefit of photovoltaic systems is in their low O&M costs and in long term durability & reliability.
In 2008, nearly 8 GW of PV had been installed worldwide in grid-tied installations. Driven by various policy programs in Japan, Germany, the US, Spain, and many other countries, 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, large scale utility and industrial users are increasingly interested in solar technologies that may be more useable in central station applications – including those that can be more rapidly scalable, inherently “dispatchable” or predictable, and possibly those generating heat versus direct electricity to supplement existing heat driven power plants. Many potential concentrating solar technologies are being pursued in an attempt to meet these needs.
Concentrated Solar Thermal Power (CST or CSP): CSP involves power generation by concentrating solar energy to generate steam and drive turbines. Sun's rays are reflected off an array of concentrators on to either a network of small tubes running across the face of the mirrors or a large central tower, in which water is turned into steam to drive conventional turbines for generating electricity. Parabolic trough concentrating collectors, power tower/heliostat configurations, and parabolic dish collectors are used in CSP systems. An additional advantage of CSP systems is the ability to run combined cycle plants with natural gas or biogas, and incorporating thermal storage of energy. Both these measures improve power dispatchability, a key element for quality grid power.
Parabolic trough technology is the most widely adopted worldwide, with over 450MW of global installed capacity benefitting from almost two decades of operational experience.
Parabolic Trough Systems: A parabolic trough system consists of trough-shaped mirror reflectors to concentrate solar radiation on to receiver tubes containing thermal transfer fluid which is heated to produce steam. This is one of the most developed, economically viable and widely accepted CSP technologies. Currently, most of the CSP projects under construction employ this technology. Approximately 354MW of parabolic trough power plants are operational in the Mojave Desert, USA, since 1989. An additional 64MW power plant has been operating since 2007 in Nevada, USA. The chief engineer for Nevada plant is an advisor to SunBorne.
Development and the Future
With energy prices going up and supplies shrinking, global warming issues, renewable energy has become a focus area for policy makers and governments globally.
A shift towards renewable energy is necessary to meet the rapidly increasing energy needs. An indication of the increase in energy requirements is visible in the crude oil import figures, which have increased from 2.7% of GDP in 2001 to 7.7% of GDP in 2008.
Solar Energy is a social revolution that has the power to elevate India and its people in a way that no technology has before. It does so by addressing the basis of decent living...electricity and water.
The Future of Solar Energy in India
- By 2050, solar energy alone will produce 1.3 times the current energy production of the country
- 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