Solar Energy Is The Future

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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.

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-fuel based energy sources. Renewable energy sources need to be developed to meet growing power requirements.

India has historically been a power deficit country and the demand for power will continue to grow with 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 today.  And less than 10% can meet all our needs for the next decade.

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 2015 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?

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 12 GW. Solar energy is primarily being used for water heating applications and off grid units.

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.

Technology

The two categories of solar power technologies are Photovoltaic (PV) and Thermal (Solar Thermal, CSP, or CST).

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.  Most of India’s installed capacity today is PV systems, both utility-scale and off-grid.

Concentrated Solar Thermal Power (CST or CSP): CSP involves power generation by concentrating solar energy to generate steam to drive turbines. Sun’s rays are reflected off an array of concentrators (reflectors or mirrors) 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.

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 other technology can.

The Future of Solar Energy in India

  • By 2015, there will be cost parity between solar energy and conventional grid power
  • By 2050, solar energy alone will produce 1.3 times the current energy production of the country

If successful, this initiative will far exceed India’s plans for nuclear power generation and dwarf current solar energy plans, and spur a large manufacturing sector.


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