Friday, January 6, 2012

India and Solar Energy:The inexhaustible Source

Solar and wind energy, the two major inexhaustible and eternal sources of energy are most precious nature's gifts to this world and the futuristic energy security concepts of this globe must totally evolve from them. Mankind has already woken to this realisation  and a lot of effort is being made towards harnessing them to provide permanent energy security, not withstanding the short term vested interests of some powerful industry cartels, countries and their leaders in favour of temporary, costly and havoc rendering obsolete concepts of energy security.
It has been a long and circuitous journey for the mankind to realise the true potential of these inexhaustible sources. It is mandatory and wise for the developing countries not to repeat this historical journey of providing energy to their citizens. They must straight away jump on to the technologies and sources which are eternal, for this will be the statesmanship and wisdom of their leaders.
While the present developed world countries are geographically placed north of the tropic of cancer and do not enjoy the same quantum of bliss of solar energy as countries like India,Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Mexico etc., in the northern hemisphere and Australia, South Africa, Namibia, Chile, Paraguay, Argentina etc. in the southern hemisphere. Sahara desert and Thar desert are the two major sites on this globe (with a 5-7 kWh/m^2 of radiation energy  for about 3000 hrs in a year) which have the potential of becoming the futuristic energy hubs, the former for Europe and north African countries and the latter for India because of shear vastness of scarcely inhabited areas with energy potential of more than 100 times of present world production.
The Indian energy security programs need to be tweaked primarily around solar energy and augmented by other renewable energies like wind, hydro power and futuristic sources like tidal and geothermal energy.
Advantages of Solar Energy  

  • Absolutely clean energy source
  • Available for total life of earth and civilisation and absolutely free of cost.
  • In situ availability at most locations on this globe that means no logistics cost for producing power
  • Suitability for all sizes of non grid requirements starting from smallest solar  cells for watch, torch, lantern etc to remote homes, remote villages and finally mega power plants for national grids.
  • Amenable to use in houses, row of houses,large buildings,hospitals,school buildings  etc. particularly in modern planned cities with effective skyline controls. In fact all new localities and townships can have architectural controls to make effective use of standalone solar power potential of each building. In fact a small middle class home with a roof area of about 130 sq. mtrs. can produce electricity to the tune of 500-700 kWh/day in a typical central India locale.
  •  In a small town of 15-16 sq. km area through a 100 metre wide integrated corridor along the periphery for installing solar panels, the requirements of the whole town can be met with a distribution network only. The high cost of transmission lines and allied losses can be totally done away with.
Drawbacks/shortcomings of solar energy

  • Available only for limited time during a day and that too only on sunny days. So either we have adopt a solar thermal power station (with 30% conversion efficiency) with cost effective thermal storage or tweak the solar panel power (photo voltaic with 15% conversion efficiency) with energy storage batteries and an instantaneously switchable electricity generator.
  • Large tracts of land are required for setting up of solar farms. The land resource is so very scarce in most countries. However it is not a problem in Indian Thar desert and African Sahara desert as both have very little population and are more or less barren. Additionally the land employed in the form of corridors along rail and highway network and irrigation canal system running into thousands of kilometres can be gainfully utilised with no extra burden on land resources. Incidentally the rail and highway corridors emanating from Delhi in all directions total upto 1200 Kms and if a 50 metre width can be used for collection of solar energy, a potential of about 1000 MW is available which can easily meet the requirements of area covered by200 kms radius around Delhi.
If humanity starts working in this direction with all its might, huge cost cutting in the capital outlay could be achieved in a short time. Simultaneously technologies for storing energy to cater for black out periods and cutting down transmission losses to almost zero with super conducting cables can be the harbinger of a new era. For developed nations, reasons for putting in all their resources and might behind this effort may not be that compelling immediately, but it is not understood why Indian politicians in particular and leaders of other energy starved nations are dillydallying on this front.