Why Distributed Solar Power Is Crucial

Sunlight is omnipresent. Why then centralise such well-distributed energy into a multi-megawatt solar farm, and redistribute it, losing 25 per cent in transmission? -- P.S. Deodhar

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High-voltage grid feed of solar farm power has no benefits. Energy from 2-50MW PV solar plants fed into the existing power grid is just a tiny fraction of power flowing through the grid. So it in no way improves the supply. This small addition makes little difference in terms of solving the problems of blackouts and brownouts that consumers suffer. Hours of power loss will continue.

Low-voltage grid feed of distributed power helps 100 per cent use of solar power. PV solar is relatively expensive and when it is fed into the grid at EHT level, it suffers high transmission loss of over 25 per cent. So the cost of useful solar energy goes up by 25 per cent. In distributed solar plants, almost all the power generated is available for use.

Distributed solar helps to create small power SMEs. Distributed solar power from 50kW-300kW solar plants creates opportunities for SME investment in solar power generation. This will trigger local employment and open avenues for new local entrepreneurs.

Locally available renewable energy projects can deliver in just a couple of months compared to two to three years typically associated with larger-scale developments, and probably at a much lesser cost.

Why then centralise such well-distributed energy into a multi-megawatt solar or wind farm, and redistribute it, losing 25 per cent in transmission? Further, why use large and expensive land resource adding to ecological problems, and also the cost?

Solar energy incentives in most developed solar markets in the US and Europe have clearly shifted their preference to distributed, small, roof-top solar installations on residences. This, because they reduce the need for expensive power-generation infrastructure, improve reliability and put money in the hands of the common citizens. The US, Spain, Germany and Italy—the four biggest markets in the world—have done this.

India, however, has so far not focussed on rooftop solar installations. This has to change since this approach is both, a great environmental strategy and a sound business strategy. While our individual solar projects would be smaller than large-scale projects, one has to remember that mini power plants today deliver over 1800 MW across North America and Europe.

In short, for the National Solar Mission 2020 to succeed, policy makers will have to view solar power generation from a developmental perspective. Energy security and rural electrificationwill get a huge shot in the arm from solar power projects that can quickly come up across the country as part of the current policy drive. Efforts are also required to promote community-based awareness, especially in rural areas.

Present situation
Solar energy is perfectly suited for India compared to many other sunlight-starved countries. The government has made a start by fixingan ambitious target of 22GW solar capacity by 2022, which rivals that of China. However, the first phase of the Jawaharlal Nehr National Solar Mission (JNNSM) has mainly given subsidies and incentives to multi-megawatt solar installations and inexplicably ignored more apt, distributed solar, widely promoted in countries like the US, the UK and Germany. As a result, in the last two years, India saw a flurryof multi-megawatt (2-200MW) PV solar power plant announcements—mostly with foreign technology and designs. Despite this, the JNNSM is nowhere near its 2012 target.

India desperately needs more renewable energy. The need is urgent for hundreds of millions of homes and businesses in places where the power grid has not reached.

According to government reports, 400 million Indians today have no access to grid power. Giving them just a solar lantern will not serve any purpose. There is no better way to give electrical power to them than to exploit the local availability of sun, wind and biomass, by focusing on distributed small-scale projects. Distributed-scale projects enjoy important advantages over large-scale projects. These are less complex, faster to interconnect and bypass time-consuming land-use issues that often add years to project timelines.


The author was formerly chairman of Electronics Commission of the government of India, and electronics advisor to India’s late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi

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