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Solar Power: What lies ahead?

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A highly overrated topic perhaps, but I often get frustrated by the amount of sunlight we lose (250 to 300 sunny days each year) i.e. we get plenty of sunshine but do not capitalize on it enough. While I am not an expert on renewable energy sources, I thought it would be interesting to see what some of the other countries are doing to capture on solar power.

solar power

But first, here are a few reasons why we should care about alternative power sources…

The Government of India has an ambitious mission of power for all by 2012. This mission would require a generation capacity of at least 200,000 MW by 2012 from the present level of 162,366 MW.

Renewable Energy contributes about 10% of total power generated sources, with Tamil Nadu contributing 30% of it, mainly through wind power. India plans to invest $19 billion in 20,000 MW of solar power generation by 2020, pretty lofty aspiration considering that India’s current grid-connected solar capacity is no more than 15MW.

Only 44% of rural households have electricity, this after an ambitious Rural Electrification plan. I don’t have to quantify the frequent power cuts that we all experience in our homes.

Transmission losses are around 40-45%, which is pretty high. Theft is another huge issue; by 2004 World Bank estimates annual losses due to theft are around 1.5% of GDP.

So what lies ahead? What should we do, well to start we can look at few different examples of Solar Power usage:

  • Konarka Corporate has developed these thin solar films (almost like plastic sheets) which the US military is planning to use to power their tents! These sheets are so thin can be easily stitched to a normal backpack or could be pasted on your windows to efficiently use solar power. Imagine the impact of these solar cells sticking to tube-wells and powering them for irrigation.
  • FedEx, the US shipping service leader, 80% of its California based plant using solar electric panels. This 904 kilowatt system can produce the equivalent of power used by more than 900 homes during the daytime. The 81,000 square feet of roof space at the facility is covered with more than 5,700 solar electric panels that also help insulate the buildings, reducing heating and cooling costs. Infosys, can you please power 10% of your humongous power consuming facilities emulating this model?
  • Our own Bangalore based company Selco, has been trying hard to push solar power sources. Selco did make a profit of Rs. 4 mil last year.

These are just few examples of solar power utilization and give an idea of how we can tap on it. In addition to that US government has huge tax subsidies for using solar power, so that’s a big incentive and offloads the initial expense involved in setting up solar panels.

Cost obviously is a big challenge as Coal-powered electricity costs 3.5 to 4 rupees per kilowatt-hour, compared with 17 rupees for power produced by photovoltaic cells.

But Government of India has to start giving heavy subsidies and build partnerships to bring cheaper technology for renewable sources otherwise their ambitious plans will fall flat which, obviously, will not be a big surprise for us.

What’s your take ?

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About Ravi Prakash

Ravi Prakash is currently pursuing MBA at Tulane University after having worked with companies like Microsoft and HCL. His interests include Photography, cooking and following technology trends.

4 comments

  1. Solar Power In India

    The Valley in southern San Fransisco Bay area is already a hub for electronics expertise – certainly a cornerstone in the pursuit for innovative design and engineering. The world’s largest high-tech companies, including Apple, Google, Facebook, and Intel are headquartered there.

  2. Solar Power In India

    In just a few days, there are over 200 comments from the public so far on the concept of new national initiative to invest in Space Solar Power. Quite a few of the comments are critical, and recommend that we continue to invest nothing in Space Solar Power.

  3. @ Ravi, Very late in commenting. Though I regularly read about the developments in solar panels, I still feel that in the last 25 years, they have not made much improvement in chip efficiency. The major deterrent is the cost / kw of solar power. Unlelss it comes down, no govt can push it for long. Science has to do its part first then only govt / industry / public will do their part. However I have also read that the thin panels which are more efficient these days are most expensive. Some of the developments I came across net (specifically youtube) make more sense than technical development. Instead of producing a chip which has more efficiency, some people have tried to pool the light by using ordinary glass to focus on a chip. This will help the chip to produce more power. So basically its a better management practice rather than innovation. However it helps. Suppose we need 1 square meter chip to produce 1W Hr energy (lets assume for comparision sake). By using ordinary glass to divert light on 10 M2 area to a 1 square meter, they were able to produce about 8W Hr energy (a loss of 2W Hr considered for loss). So what they did is instead of using 8 square meter of chip to produce 8W Hr, they used 1 square meter chip and 10 square meter ordinary glass. So the cost is less by leaps and bounds. I read somewhere that theoritically a whole cubical building can be covered with glass panels and the light is focussed on number of optical cables which carry the power of light to a small room where on a small chip they can produce massive energy. All tehse are small “cutting corners” only. Anyway a nice article.

  4. i remember when i visited Bunker Roy’s vilage (Tiloniya) in rajasthan,……they run their village & power needs all on solar power ! besides, coming to renewable energy sources, what happened to suzlon is something i am yet o study in detail. . . but i am quite positive about the same in the near future ! One question i have is, “What about nuclear power reactors? . . .their cost of generation energy per MW?? ” . . and then, there’s bio-engineering ! What would be the best one for us, keeping in a/c the demography & the environment !

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