Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Solar Powered India

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“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”- Thomas Edison

India is a country with abundant natural resources, and solar power is not left behind. In a recent document published by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), it has been established that India today receives more than 5,000 trillion kWh/year of solar radiation, which is far more than its total annual energy requirement. The radiation can have various usages in thermal and voltaic application areas.

Solar thermal technology uses the sun’s energy, rather than fossil fuels, to generate low-cost environment-friendly thermal energy. This energy is used to heat water or other fluids for industrial, commercial and domestic sectors of the country. In addition, it can power solar cooling systems. In new-age civil construction setups, solar-powered steam-generating systems and air-heating technologies are in vogue, especially in urban landscapes.

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Solar photovoltaic technologies have their own application areas and these are used majorly for solar lanterns, solar home systems, solar streetlights, solar pumps, solar power packs, rooftop SPV systems, etc, reducing the burden on conventional fuels. So what’s the future ahead?

Wider acceptance of solar thermal systems drives business value in the long run by providing the following set of benefits:

  • Reduced bills: Large business houses that require many gallons of hot water and other fluids must pay higher amounts for fuel-heating requirements, whereas manufacturing units using solar power save nearly 70 per cent on this cost.
  • Benefits of compliance with government mandates: Many areas and green zones must meet some government mandates and solar thermal systems help meet the requirements set. This also benefits them in terms of sops from the government while also giving a ROI.
  • Reduction in carbon footprint: By utilising solar energy instead of fossil fuels, solar thermal systems reduce the amount of onsite-generated, carbon-based greenhouse gases that businesses emit into the atmosphere.

Early 2010, the government of India, realising the benefits of solar power, launched the National Solar Mission with an initial target of deploying 20,000MW of grid-connected solar power by 2022. The idea was to reduce the cost of solar power generation through the following measures:

  • Long-term policy framework to support the initiative
  • Large-scale deployment goals
  • High-resource R&D
  • Domestic production of critical raw materials, components and products

After nearly five years of this initiative, with the mission taking off well the target has been revised to 100,000MW solar power generation capacity with the salient features remaining the same.

The way forward

With the threat of climate change, solar is the technology to rely upon in addition to the other forms of renewable energy. Solar electricity generation is one of very few low-carbon energy technologies with the potential to grow to very large scale. Recent years have seen rapid growth in installed solar generation capacity, great improvements in technology, price and performance, and development of creative business models that have spurred investment in residential solar systems.

Nonetheless, further advances are needed to enable a dramatic increase in solar contribution at socially acceptable costs. Achieving this role for solar energy will ultimately require that solar technologies become cost-competitive with fossil generation, which are appropriately penalised for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions with substantially reduced subsidies.

Technical nuances

Photovoltaic modules (PVMs). The cost of installed PVM is historically driven by: the cost of the solar module and the balance-of-system (BOS) costs, which include costs of inverters, racking and installation hardware, design and installation labour, and marketing, as well as various regulatory and financing costs. After years of development supported by the government’s research and development investments, the leading PVM technology, termed wafer-based crystalline silicon (c-Si), is technologically mature with large-scale c-Si module manufacturing capacity in place. c-Si systems are likely to dominate the solar energy market for the next few decades and perhaps beyond. Moreover, if the industry can substantially reduce its reliance on silver for electrical contacts, material inputs for c-Si PV generation are available in sufficient quantity to support expansion to terawatt scale.

However, current c-Si technologies have inherent technical limitations-most importantly, their high processing complexity and low intrinsic light absorption (which requires a thick silicon wafer). The resulting rigidity and weight of glass-enclosed c-Si modules contribute to BOS cost. Firms that manufacture c-Si modules and their component cells and input materials have the means and the incentive to pursue remaining opportunities to make this technology more competitive through improvements in efficiency and reductions in manufacturing cost and materials use. Thus, there is not a good case for government support of R&D on current c-Si technology.

The limitations of c-Si have led to research into thin-film PVM alternatives. Commercial thin-film PVM technologies, primarily cadmium telluride (CdTe) and copper-indium gallium-selenide (CIGS) solar cells, constitute roughly 10 per cent of the PVM market today and are already cost-competitive with silicon. Unfortunately, some commercial thin-film technologies are based on scarce elements, which makes it unlikely that they will be able to achieve terawatt-scale deployment at reasonable cost. The abundance of tellurium in the earth’s crust, for example, is estimated to be only one-quarter that of gold.

Emerging thin-film technologies, which are in the research stage, use neo-age material systems and device structures and have the potential to provide superior performance with lower manufacturing complexity and cost. Several of these technologies use materials abundant on the earth-even silicon in some cases. Other properties of some new thin-film technologies, such as low weight and compatibility with installation in flexible formats, promise reductions in BOS costs along with lower module costs.

Though these emerging technologies are not nearly competitive with c-Si today, they have the potential to significantly reduce the cost of PVM-generated electricity in the future. And while the private sector is likely to view R&D investments in these technologies as risky, the payoff could be enormous. Therefore, to increase the contribution of solar energy for long-term climate change mitigation, I strongly recommend that a large fraction of government resources for solar research and development focuses on environmentally benign, emerging thin-film technologies that are based on Earth-abundant materials. Technically, that would be the ideal way forward, catapulting India into a new realm of growth by making it energy powered!

Need for solar powered cities

With the changing urban landscapes and rapid economic development, we are seeing a spurt in energy demand of urban centres, leading to enhanced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Mega cities across the world have set up stiff goals to be renewable-energised and reduce GHG, and countries like USA, China and Australia have already started setting up Solar Cities. So is the time ripe for India to follow the same?

Indian cities and towns are experiencing rapid growth in their peak electricity demand. The local governments and the electricity utilities are finding it difficult to cope with this rapid rise in demand. As a result, most of the cities/towns are facing electricity shortages.

In this context, the ‘Development of Solar Cities’ programme is designed to support/encourage urban local bodies to prepare a roadmap to guide their cities in becoming ‘renewable energy cities’ or ‘solar cities.’ The government has already initiated various programmes in the urban sector for promoting solar water heating systems in homes, hotels, hostels, hospitals and industry; deployment of SPV systems/devices in urban areas for demonstration and awareness creation; establishment of ‘Akshya Urja Shops’; design of solar buildings; and urban and industrial waste-/ biomass-to-energy projects. The solar city programme aims to consolidate all the efforts of the Ministry in the Urban Sector and address the energy problem of urban areas in a holistic manner.

Solar Cities, by nomenclature, are those which have renewable-based electrification programmes in place. The basic aim is to achieve a systemic reduction in conventional energy use by 10 per cent over a period of 5-3-1-year. The alternate categorisation would be to motivate local governments in adoption and implementation of new renewable energy technologies. The civil administration identifies cities based on their population, potential and commitment for adoption of renewable energy and energy conversation modalities in the city activities, regulatory compliances for deployment of renewable energy initiatives, resources availability and sustenance activities that have been initiated already in the city.

There may be cities which don’t fall under the 0.5-5 million population bracket but can be given the Solar City status under a special category notification. Ideally, these are places in the north-eastern states, islands, union territories and hilly regions. Initial plan for the programme was to flourish a total of 60 cities, with a minimum standard base of one city per state and the maximum count going up to five. The plan is to have a centre-state partnership model in terms of development.

The key objectives of the plan are to:

  • Enable and empower urban local governments to address energy challenges at city level
  • Provide a framework and support to prepare a Master Plan including assessment of current energy situation, future demand and action plans
  • Build capacities in the urban local bodies and create awareness among all sections of civil society
  • Involve stakeholders in the planning process
  • Oversee the implementation of sustainable energy options through public-private partnerships.

With these objectives in mind, the government is providing administrative and financial support. Demarcations in this case are the assistance in preparation of the master plan for increasing renewable energy supply and energy-efficiency measures for a city, setting up of knowledge groups and system integrator panel for implementation of the master plan, awareness generation and capacity building activities, and above all financial incentives for project implementation as per the MNRE code.
In this regard, the government has identified some cities that fulfil the requirements as per the standards and criteria set forth. These are Agra, Moradabad, Rajkot, Gandhinagar, Surat, Nagpur, Kalyan-Dombiwali, Thane, Nanded, Aurangabad, Indore, Gwalior, Bhopal, Imphal, Kohima, Dimapur, Dehradun, Haridwar-Rishikesh, Chamoli-Gopeshwar, Chandigarh, Gurgaon, Faridabad, Coimbatore, Vijaywada, Bilaspur, Raipur, Agartala, Guwahati, Jorhat, Hubli, Maysore, Thiruvananthapuram, Amritsar, Ludhiana, Ajmer, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bhubaneswar, , Aizawl, Panji City & Environs, Itanagar, Hamirpur, Shimla, Kochi, Howrah, Rewa, Shirdi and SAS Nagar Mohali.

These cities need to take the following initiatives to create a solar environment:

  • Create Solar City Cells
  • Constitute a Solar City Stakeholders Committee
  • Promote green city culture and green buildings outlook for commercial spaces
  • Provide an ecosystem of solar water heating system and tax holidays for users in institutional and domestic sectors
  • Comply with Ministry of Environment rules as a civic administration
  • Organise fast-paced publicity, training and business meets among various stakeholders within the city, activate RWAs and municipal bodies, and involve private-public partnership in terms of meeting the solar city objective
  • Generate necessary funds from state governments and funding partners to meet the regulatory expenses with initial funding coming in through central institutions.

These are great days for solar-powered energy systems. The fundamental steps taken by the government show its commitment towards making a change in the ecosystem and reducing the over-dependence on conventional energy forms. As an entrepreneur, what do you expect going forth?

As leading British architect Sir Norman Foster says, “Solar is not about Fashion, but it’s about survival.” So I would like to leave you with the thought “Has our country realised the power of resources or it’s yet to reach the full circle?”


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