Solar and wind power can alleviate India's energy shortage

Solar and wind power can alleviate India's energy shortage

The renewable sources of energy, which is gaining massive popularity in Europe, is hardly developed in India contributing only 11 per cent of the total production.

The country is still heavily dependent on the polluting thermal source which meets more than half of its requirement, with hydroelectric contributing 22 per cent, natural gas 10.30 per cent and nuclear energy a mere 2.7 per cent.

Transmission and distribution losses — most of which happens due to theft — are extremely high at 24.7 per cent in 2010-11; there is a peak power shortfall of 13 per cent. India has 50,000 or more villages which cannot be connected through grids because of their small population, difficulty of terrain and remoteness. Power shortages are constraining growth, while there is shortage of coal, and imported coal is expensive. The conventional methods of producing electric power have two major drawbacks — environmental pollution resulting in global warming and drainage of foreign exchange resources.

India has about 300 sunny days amounting to about 3,000 hours of sunshine equivalent to 5,000 trillion kwh. Solar energy is generated during daylight hours which is the period of normal peak demand. It is pollution free and inexhaustible in a tropical country like India. It can be used through the thermal route for heating, cooking etc or by generation of electricity through photovoltaic cells. Electricity generated through photovoltaic cells and CSP plants can be connected to the grid.

Solar energy conversion equipment have a longer life, less maintenance costs and lower running costs than equipment producing power through conventional sources. Solar photovoltaic cells convert solar radiation into electricity; high temperature solar energy collectors use concentrated solar radiation to generate electricity through the thermal route.  In rural India where grid power is not available, cheap solar technology is a viable alternative; the electricity infrastructure could consist of a net work of local-grid clusters with distributed solar electric generation bringing cheap power to the masses.

In July 2009, India announced a plan to produce 20 GW of solar power by 2020. Under the plan solar powered equipment and applications are to be made compulsory in all government buildings, hospitals etc. In November 2009 the National Solar Mission was launched with a plan to generate 1,000 MW by 2013. The ministry of new and renewable energy resources (MNRE) has installed solar radiation resource assessment stations across India to create a Solar Atlas.

Encouraging solar companies

The 2010-11 budget provided funds to the Jawaharlal National Solar Mission and established  a clean energy fund. It sought to encourage private solar companies by reducing the customs duty on solar panels by 50 per cent and exempting excise duty on solar photovoltaic cells; it  also levied a coal tax on domestic and imported coal used for power generation to discourage coal consumption.

MNRE provides a 30 per cent subsidy on installation costs of a solar electric power plant; it’s strategic plan for 2011-17 is to produce 2,1700 MW of power from renewable resources over a 6 year period, including 4,000 MW of solar power and 13,400 MW of wind power, for which the funds required for grid-connected power from renewable sources is estimated at Rs 12,900 crore including  Rs 8,368 crore for solar and Rs 2,800 crore for wind power.

This April, Gujarat set up a 600 MW solar power generation capacity solar park at Charanka in addition to the  214 MW plant  set up earlier. The chief minister said that the cost of solar power has come down from Rs 15 per unit to 8.50 per unit after the state chalked out plans to tap solar energy. In Rajasthan an area of 35,000 sq.km has been set aside in the Thar desert for solar power projects sufficient to generate 700 GW to 2,100 GW of solar power (which would involve massive investment).  Bangalore has the largest deployment of rooftop solar water heaters in India which generate 200 MW of power every day.

Karnataka State allows a rebate of Rs 50 per month on electric bills for residents using roof top thermal systems and they have been mandatory for new structures; the state is setting up solar panels along 10,000 km of canals to provide power for agricultural purposes and lighting; each village on the banks is expected to generate 5 MW of power for its use.

The installed capacity of solar power in India which was a mere 20 MW in 2010-11, shot up to 940 MW the next year. Investment in solar power projects in 2011 crossed $ 2 billion. Solar power plants need only a one-time investment in land and PV panels, and their fuel is free unlike coal whose cost goes on increasing. If the duration of the power purchasing agreement which is 25 years is taken into account, the cost of producing solar power becomes competitive as compared to power from coal, wind and hydroelectric plants.

Considerable progress in harnessing solar energy  has been achieved in the last three years due to subsidies and encouragement  provided by the Central and state governments and the enterprise of the private sector. Given the chronic power shortages in India, maximising the generation of electricity from solar and wind sources appears to be the most viable option; however,  this calls for increased investment in research and development in those areas, to bring down  the rates of power from those sources  at least to  the level of the  rates from conventional sources. 

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