Electrical Monitor

Solar Energy: The way forward

Hari Kiran ChereddiSaturday, May 07, 2011, 14:32 Hrs  [IST]

Hari Kiran Chereddi.jpgThe 20th century was an era of awakening for mankind. Not only did people realize the far reaching effects of depleting non-renewable resources for energy generation, but also worked on harnessing renewable sources like sunlight, wind, rain, tides and geothermal heat similar to what our early ancestors used for energy . Studies so far show that if no action is taken in time, not only would our future generations be without resources for energy generation but it would also drive the planet to the brink of catastrophe.

The onus lies on us to be responsible in consumption and generation of energy. Energy is a challenging yet growing sector which demands deft handling and a responsibility of preserving the delicate balances created by nature. In order to reach the levels deemed safe by the world's scientific community, carbon emissions must decline by 5 per cent every year. Globally public policy makers and business leaders face the critical challenge to significantly increase carbon productivity while expanding world economy.

We strongly believe that the next couple of years will see a rise in the oil prices, which will draw more attention to renewable energy especially solar power. The way forward is to exploit renewable energy sources, of which solar energy is by far the most prominent and could be used to meet global energy demand in a carbon-neutral fashion.

Wind and solar power are the world's fastest-growing energy sources, with capacity expanding at double-digit rates every year over the past decade.

Untitled - 21.jpgThe effects of this rapid growth include impressive technology advances, dramatic cost reductions, and an increase in political support for renewable energy around the world. Just as oil was a passport to wealth in the 20th century, the sun will be a gateway to prosperity in the 21st. The reason behind the excitement about solar power is that it offers a viable solution, at least in part, to all major challenges of economic competitiveness, energy independence, and climate change.

Today solar power has already become a small part of daily life. From solar heated swimming pools to solar powered homes, some examples already exist to show the useful application of the clean, safe, sustainable power of the sun. Yet many wonder if small applications will be all solar power is capable of handling. Certainly, the difficulties of large solar plants are many, although experts continue to insist that the future of solar energy is quite sunny. The future of solar energy depends mostly on how it is applied, rather than it being enough energy to be a viable world power source.

The sun is an inexhaustible, clean and more importantly free energy source. What's impeding the immediate mushrooming of Solar Power plants is the high capital cost involved. When you set up a solar plant, you make an 80-90 per cent capital payment upfront in comparison to a thermal power plant, where the upfront capital cost is only 30 per cent of the total cost and the rest is consumed in terms of fuel (coal) over its lifetime. Since the fuel is free in a solar power plant, the only cost after setting up a plant will go into operations and maintenance, which is negligible. While, in the long run a solar power plant makes sense to the environment and the economy, the high capital investment is a source of bother.

Solar energy is dispersed/scattered/time sensitive/limited to few hours a day time and intermittent, so effective storage and distribution are critical to matching supply with demand. But significant solar expansion also would challenge innovators to increase grid integration capabilities, develop new energy storage systems and upgrade solar financing mechanisms. And we would need to train a solar workforce that can deploy and integrate solar into existing and new infrastructure. Meeting such enormous logistical challenges is difficult, but not impossible. This will require more than just effective individual companies. It will require coordination across the entire solar community, including private companies, academia, non-profits, and government to take our collaborative efforts to a new level. The good news is that solar policy has made some remarkable advances in recent years, despite the industry's limited resources. This has happened because solar offers a real solution that speaks to today's needs in a uniquely effective way.

For renewable energy to make a significant contribution to economic development, job creation, reduced fossil fuel dependence, improved human health, and lower green-house-gas emissions, it is essential to improve the efficiency of the technologies, reduce their costs, and develop mature, self sustaining industries to manufacture, install, and maintain renewable energy systems. The goal must be to establish the conditions for sustained and profitable industries. These in turn will boost renewable energy capacity, generation, and will drive down costs. Viable, clear, and long-term government commitments are critical to this end, along with policies that create markets and ensure a fair rate of return for investors. The future of energy is constrained by a myriad of issues spanning growing demand, constrained supply, geopolitical dynamics and more importantly challenged new resources. Newer business models are required to meet the significant growth of global energy demand. Adding & accelerating the diversification of energy generation sources is essential. Most companies in the solar business today understand that 'scale' is very important more so to create a foot print. However, a key tenet for sustainability is 'innovation'. Companies with holistic energy strategies and newer business models are poised to succeed. The Solar industry has seen the emergence of modular & hybrid systems to meet customers' needs at affordable costs. Solar Thermal (CSP) has seen a lot of companies design and demonstrates patented technologies based on parabolic troughs & linear Fresnel technology.

While everyone right now is focusing on mega projects to overcome the power deficit that are plaguing India as well as other developing countries, we believe that the future lies in small, modular and distributed power plants, where each community will produce its own energy in a local fashion, without the need for high voltage transmission lines bringing power from large power stations from far away, wherein a lot of power is lost on the way and wasted in the form of transmission losses.

Untitled - 22.jpgResponsible energy is the judicious generation as well as utilization of sustainable and clean earth-friendly energy. For generating green energy, there are a few renewable sources to choose from rated according to their renewability and availability such as solar, wind, biomass, or geothermal. On their own any of these cannot be as effective as they can be in various combinations. The idea is to combine indigenous renewable resources with the most powerful source the Sun to generate power so that we don't exhaust all our resources and have optimal supply of power day or night.

This is where hybrid technology comes in and even offers the best alternative. In this innovative technology, the power generation plant operates partly on solar power and partly on a secondary source like Natural gas, Geothermal or Bio-mass. Hybrid solar-biomass plants are the key solutions to provide reliable power in order for CSP technology to be lucrative and profitable. In utilizing solar power by itself, the capacity factor is only 15 per cent but hybrid plants can provide a capacity factor of 75 per cent along with a higher thermal efficiency.

Sujana Energy Ltd has developed this technology as few more reasons why creating a hybrid plant compared to a standalone solar thermal or photovoltaic plant is better are that it will decrease CO2 emissions and amount of fossil fuel being burnt. It will also help to meet renewable portfolio standards. The capital cost of power generation systems can be drastically reduced along with security of providing constant supply of power thus delivering higher capacity factor.

To shift towards renewable power generation is a choice the world has to make. Research will provide us with more feasible and practical solutions on how to harness renewable energy sources. But it is the responsibility of every inhabitant of this planet and business leaders to consciously move towards a greener planet while sustaining economic growth in doing so. Making the right choice in a wide range of decisions is a tall task, but progress in that direction is inevitable, so it's time for each one of us to pick the baton and march ahead -responsibly.

About the author: Hari Kiran Chereddi is Managing Director, Sujana Energy Ltd