Monday, August 12, 2013

SOLAR ENERGY: BEST BET FOR INCLUSIVE GROWTH

The Indian government's thrust on inclusive growth is laudable and it is well known that growth, prosperity, healthcare, education and improvement in living conditions are all dependent on availability of power and an energy security model based on large power producing plants and a massive transmission and distribution system is neither viable nor feasible in rural areas whether remote or otherwise. A city conglomerate with a population of  about 2 million and an area of about 200 sq. kms is a concentrated pocket requiring something like 200 MW of electricity and the costs incurred on bringing in electricity from a large power plant 150 to 200 kms away can be justified but imagine a rural cluster of 5 villages in the same area with a population of  may be 5000 and an energy requirement of  5 - 10 MW can hardly justify the costs of being on a national grid system. India today needs many fold increase in its energy generation to cover all industrialization and households electrification needs. Firstly, this quantum of energy requirement cannot be met without resorting to renewable energy sources and secondly putting a national grid in place to cover all nooks and corners of the country may not materialize in the coming few decades even if the country decides to forget the cost, commercial aspects and the economy of energy production, transmission and distribution. Power engineers and policy makers anywhere must never forget that solar is simple, keep it simple to retain its edge when looking for solutions to energy security. It is because of such concerns and considerations of giving boost to rural industrialization that Brasil, Indonesia and now Zambia has opted for Solar energy to boost rural industrialization.
Of late the government of India has started realizing the importance of development of solar energy and it has proposed a target of 20000 mw by the end of 13th five year plan, though too little and too slow in view of the potential and advantages of basing India's energy security entirely on renewable energy concepts. The Indian prime minister has asked Bharat Heavy Electricals ( BHEL ) to take lead in developing solar power technology. It will be wonderful if other engineering giants are also involved in this national endeavor to make India into a global leader in the field of power from renewable energy sources. It was equally heartening to note that Dr Kakodkar, former chairman of Atomic Energy Commission, one of the most vociferous advocates of nuclear energy has bracketed solar along with nuclear for the ultimate energy security of the country. Nuclear energy is debatable and a very contentious issue in the light of false safety promises and likelihood of catastrophic accidents. In comparison solar has no thorns attached to it and easily emerges as the only wise option. It is not just for nothing that many advanced countries are putting in all their eggs in the basket of renewable energy, so much so that their yearly additions to power from renewable energy sources are to the tune of 4000 mw and higher and solar power being the highest contributor.
The whole world takes cognizance of the fact that India   is  at  the  thresh  hold  of  a  huge  step forward to become one of the economic super powers of  21st century because of a huge opportunity knocking on its doors with a combination of favourable factors like vast technical and management  human  resource at much lower expense,  an  awesome demography  advantage   coupled   with   an enormous demand for all kind of consumer goods, infrastructure, housing and healthcare needs even if one talks about extending  the benefits of development to a level of reasonably good living as per the European standards to the 1 billion plus population of the country. Add to this the need and inner desire on the part of all nations to shift over to renewable energy sources for energy security because of global environmental concerns and finite nature of all fuel based energy. Total reliance and a super thrust on renewable energy is a must for India becoming a global leader and the sheer magnitude of India's additional power requirements in the coming two decades should prompt the country's leadership to find solutions which can give the country leadership in newer power technologies for all times to come.