Thursday, February 24, 2011

Solar 2

Towards a Solar Policy

What is the moral of the story? Solar future may be far off for us, if we do not equip ourselves with the right technology at the right time. Easier said than done, but it can be done. This should not, however, mean recruiting non-productive scientists bureaucracy in our R&D institutions and elsewhere, marveling at show case projects. Throwing money at it , does not bring in technology, neither doing nothing and waiting to be supplied packaged technology ,in the rich oil producing Arab countries’ style ,suits us. Private sector would have to be integrated, which is a separate discussion and would be taken up at some other time. It would remain a difficult question as to when to enter into this and how. Although a few things can be done immediately, like introducing solar energy in schools and universities curricula, and augmented by R&D activities in PhD programs should receive immediate priority. That a trained work-force brings down technology induction costs and speeds up the process, would not be lost to anyone.

The problems with renewable energy

For all the praise of renewable energy, we should also be cognizant of the problems with these sources, apart from the lack of development of commercially reliable and competitive technology.

Sun shines only in the day, and there may be cloudy weather sometimes, though this problem is much lesser with us, but would still influence supply. Although sun shines almost every where, wind of required speeds do not blow every where and all the times. In technical terms, this means low capacity factor. Renewable energies like solar and others may offer a capacity factor (call it utilization) as low as 25 %, as compared to 80 % of conventional power. Thus even, if the per MW cost may be identical; its actual capital cost implication is three time more. Thus if capital costs of solar or other renewables is twice the conventional as the case may be today , its actual capital cost implication would be six times higher. Additional storage costs may be extra. But for industries working in day time , only marginal storage costs may be involved for load balancing purposes only ; Similarly the offices and commercial sectors which today pay highest tariff. Laptops may have built in solar cells eventually, as today calculators work on solar cells, surviving on room lighting as energy source. Today, the solar conversion efficiency is as low as ten percent or slightly more, but is slated to rise to 40 % in a matter of two decades, almost as much as in conventional. But as of today, this seems to be a major disadvantage

When should we jump in ?

When should we jump in? We are already in it in limited ways , largely on the basis of foreign funded projects , which are also serving as demonstration models for manufacturers as well , and hence the rationale for foreign aid , apart from its philanthropy and ? . Solar PV costs are coming down very fast. Sometimes, in the next five years, solar power may be competitive in off-grid markets, of small and far off villages. For specialized applications such as power supply to communications tower, monitoring stations, pipelines instrumentations, health and education facilities in far off villages , it is already competitive and in demand. In Bangladesh, reportedly, a PV-LED combination has become very popular and successful in villages, where a 20 watts PV –LED power is lighting the lives in rural homes. The rent/tariff, it is said, has been kept as low as their kerosene budget for lighting. Not a bad deal, if that can be replicated here in this country.

Institutional issues

Even if the real days of Solar Power may be ahead in time, there is to be some home work and an enabling policy in place, to guide investors, businessmen, R&D institutions, vendors etc. For example in what areas and villages government is to priorities solar power. What kind of institutional arrangements are required and may be permitted and supported. In this case company model may not work as well as it does for grid power. Cooperative bodies may have to be promotes and the role and functions of such co-operatives may have to be defined. Electricity Co-operatives have worked successfully in The US in the initial days, and have survived till this day. Electricity Coops are going to be in fashion again through out the world and more so in the developing countries. May be for development purposes a few one-MW solar power plants may be permitted every year, which may require auctioning such opportunities. Local content may have to be mandated.

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