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Solar energy can help India to meet its energy needs: Amit Kumar

Feb 05, 2014

India, in order to meet its energy requirements, has shown good potential in utilising the solar energy resource, said, Amit Kumar, Director, Energy Environment Technology Development, TERI.

India is only G20 country having excellent potential for tapping solar energy in cost effective and sustainable way with combination of Indian and international technology base. This indigenously available solar energy resource can be used gainfully for meeting country’s energy requirements – thermal as well as electricity - of domestic, industrial, and commercial sectors. On the applications side, the range of solar thermal energy is very large.

At the high end there are megawatt level solar thermal power plants whereas at the lower end there are domestic appliances such as solar cooker, solar water heater and PV lanterns. In between one can have applications such as industrial process heat, desalination, refrigeration and air-conditioning, drying, large scale cooking, water pumping, domestic power systems, and passive solar architecture.

In India, as a result of efforts made during the past two decades, a significant infrastructure has emerged for the manufacture of different solar energy systems/components including solar PV cells and modules; solar collectors; solar water heating systems; and solar parabolic dish. Some of these have also been exported to the USA, Asian countries, Europe and Latin America albeit sporadically. India’s solar energy programme received a major fillip when JNNSM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission) was launched in 2010.

This was indeed a major step towards achieving the twin target of providing access to energy and energy security to sixth of the world population – major focus areas of the forthcoming Delhi Sustainable Development Summit 2014(DSDS 2014). Against an ambitious goal of adding target of 20 GW of solar power by 2022, country had added 2079 MW of solar power by October 31, 2013. However, further scaling would require addressing a number of challenges.

At the outset, public perceptions that solar energy is expensive and it cannot meet evening demand, need to be effectively countered. It is a fact that over the years, cost of delivered solar energy has come down drastically and it is already cheaper than diesel generators’ based electricity - backbone of most of our commercial, industrial, and residential establishments. And with integration of proper storage media, solar energy can be, and is being used in the nighttime as well. It may be pointed out that if solar power is consumed during the daytime itself, naturally it is more cost-efficient.

However, it is a fallacy to say that electricity demand is there in the evenings/nights only. Indeed with so much of daytime demand of electricity, there is no reason why solar electricity cannot be consumed then and there. Another major challenge pertains to maintaining grid stability when a large amount of intermittent solar power is injected in to the grid. Well, with modern technological solutions like the smart grids and energy storage it is possible to take care of this challenge. What is actually required is to focus on the proper designing of solar systems, often a neglected area. The way it is treated today, it seems that everyone is an expert in the design of solar plants, and their integration with the conventional systems, whether electricity grids or industrial processes. System design being very specialized field, there is a need for putting a lot of emphasis on training and capacity building along the complete value chain, from engineers to technicians.

One of the untapped markets, covering the urban pockets that depend on diesel gensets for captive and back-up consumption, is in the form of roof-top solar PV installations over industrial, commercial, and residential roofs particularly in urban areas. This market can substantially add to the generation mix of the state while at the same time reducing the dependence on diesel based captive and back-up generation units.  Besides such systems being close to the load centres, utilization of idle roof-tops would also help obviate the need for large land-tracts for installation of solar plants.

Momentum of large-scale utilization of solar energy can only be sustained if it is backed by indigenous R&D, innovation, and manufacturing capability. By nature solar systems are dependent on local conditions and as such need to be optimized for particular applications and geographical conditions. Therefore, a flourishing R&D base in the country is critical if India wants to translate its long-term solar energy vision into a reality. Such an innovation system requires close collaboration between the research community and the industry. Indeed, India can become a living-laboratory for the global players including R&D institutions and industry to collaborate with their Indian counterparts to come out with innovative solutions. Similarly, to achieve one of the stated goals of JNNSM about leadership in solar manufacturing, there is an urgent need for the policy support and hand holding along the complete value chain including the ancillary industry. Indeed, a programme could be launched to establish India as a `Solar Hub’ for manufacturing solar energy systems, devices, and their components. This would not only help in bringing down the costs of solar energy systems through economies of scale but could also cater to the growing export markets.

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