Monthly Archives: March 2014

Power from the sky

Thanks to improving technology and economics of scale, the cost of generating solar power at source has been dropping rapidly, making it increasingly viable.

29HAB-greensens_29_1815932eThe word ‘farm’ evokes certain images in our minds, but the words ‘solar farm’? These are the new phenomena evolving around us, to tap the power of the solar power. While roof top photovoltaic panels serving individual buildings are becoming popular, solar farms have large number of panels in one place, serving a settlement or a grid supply.

These are installed by corporate houses, industrial estates, government departments or such institutions. India has a notable achievement in this direction, with such installed capacity seeing a sharp rise from 18 MW to 2100 MW during the period February 2010 to October 2013. The figures appear impressive, but with the energy demand expected to double by 2030, every big step we are taking today is still a small step against the daunting future.

Collecting solar radiation data for any given location would assist in precise calculations of possible power generation. Thanks to improving technology and economics of scale, cost of generating solar power at source has been dropping rapidly, making it increasingly viable.

However, the present production cost, supposedly around Rs. 8 per Kwh, is still costlier compared to hydroelectricity, coal based power, production from biomass and such others. Despite all arguments supporting solar power, why is it that it is still not very common?

Major deterrrents

High upfront installation cost, specially when the owner of the building is running out of budget as the project completes, is among the major deterrents.

Though the government is offering incentives and subsidies, both for self-use off grid installations and on grid supplies, availing them is not yet a smooth process.

The state supply could be unpredictable, but thanks to populist subsidy policy, it comes at such low prices, people hesitate to invest in the costlier option of solar panels. Also the cost of periodic battery replacement adds to the solar investment.

All factors put together, many individuals tend to consider spending on solar power as a non-lucrative option.

At the level of individual buildings, we need to install hybrid systems – tap power from the State grid, solar and also wind, if feasible. The back-up batteries can be charged accordingly, from solar during day and from the grid during night.

Crucial factors

As of now, power form the sun cannot be stored, as such it is important to know how much our rooftop installations generate at what time, how can we use them accordingly, how many battery back-ups we need to keep, should we use CFL or LED fixtures and such other factors.

Investing in solar power without studying the family power consumption patterns, especially during day and night cycles, may lead to unutilised power.

Notwithstanding the arguments for and against solar power, it may hold the key for a sustainable future. Accordingly, the Indian Government has initiated many measures through its much acclaimed Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) at the national level and it is up to all of us to do our bit at individual levels.

Light from the roof

Many offices and rural homes are considering installing photovoltaic panels to supplement their grid power supply.

22bgh-solar-gre_22_1802904e (1)What is the buzz word today in the world of renewable energy? Without much thinking, everyone will say solar energy, a rapidly expanding technology with unlimited potential. While many buildings are already getting their power supply largely from solar power systems, many more from offices with backup diesel generators to rural homes facing frequent power cuts are considering photovoltaic panels to supplement their grid power supply. We can see a future unfurling.

It all starts with the basic home lighting systems to generate 250 v to 3,500 v with CFL or LED bulbs ranging in number between one and 10. There would be a PV or photovoltaic panel, also called as the module, made up of crystalline cells capable of converting solar light into electricity power; battery; charge controller to monitor overcharging; and the cables.

Depending upon the budget and location, one may buy the bulbs in numbers as required. The DC power generated here does not become part of the house wiring, but directly feeds into the bulbs as located.

More advanced technology with greater power generation options lies in roof top systems. Besides the PV panels, battery, charge controller and cables, they additionally have an inverter or hybrid UPS system, which enables DC to AC conversion and battery charging both by solar power and electricity grid. The panels are fixed at 15 degrees slope to south, normally mounted on steel supports at any reasonable height as per site condition. Panels come in 1m x 2m size, producing average 250 watt power. To generate 1 Kw we would need four panels and 2×4 m space. While 1 Kw suffices for most small homes, it is limited to lights, fans and such other non-power circuits. Increasingly families are installing up to 5 Kw to turn the house into completely solar powered.

Accessibility

Panels need to be fixed on the flat terrace, but can also jet out as a projection from the wall, be on the top of a sloping roof or create a pavilion roof of its own. However, accessibility for proper installation and maintenance is a priority. Every panel should ideally come with one battery to be able to save all the power generated, though some vendors may suggest fewer batteries to save on upfront costs, which is not an optimal solution.

Making solar cells, which finally make the panel, involves high technology with only four companies doing it in India. Despite the panels having marginal annual power degradation ranging from one to two per cent, they easily last for 20 years or so. Nowadays many cheaper components are being imported, which may or may not be value for money, so it is safer to check the source before buying.

As the building construction approaches the end, owners left with little money tend to re-think on installing solar power. It is a valid thought, but in long term installing solar power will be a wise action.

Life in the solar system

With around 300 sunny days every year, India has great potential to harness sun power.

15HABgreensense_15_1789068eWhich is the single source of power available virtually everywhere and will never exhaust? Not everyone may get the answer right, but majority may guess it to be the power from the sun. Which source of power can we name for being plentiful, green, clean and free? Now everyone will get it right – solar power.

At present all of us get the image of water heaters when we mention solar, which technically is termed solar thermal, while solar photovoltaic power is a different approach. In the former, heat in solar radiation is directly transferred to water by direct exposure, which is a simple technology, quite like boiling water on fire. Photovoltaic technology, simply called PV, directly produces electricity from light, with no material waste, moving parts, maintenance and such others, hence is among the best non-polluting sources we have today. With an average 300 sunny days an year, India has great potential to harness sun power. Solar power need not be transmitted across long distances, can be localised within our building sites and is possibly the most sustainable power for ever.

It is basically DC current, so during the early days a separate wiring circuit was done with special DC bulbs fixed to utilise the generated power. With improved technology nowadays, solar power is directly converted into AC current, same as the type supplied by State electricity grids. Of course, we need inverters and separate UPS systems, which get charged by solar during daytime and by the State grid during night, for further connection to the whole house through the main distribution board.

SELCO gained nationwide name and many international awards for popularising solar power in rural areas. There are many other companies too, including TATA Power, Orb, Solarizer, Su-kam, Kotak, and Basic Energetics, whose products have complimented the cable-supplied electricity prone to power cuts, nearly 30 per cent transmission loss, ever increasing power tariffs and general unreliability outside metropolitan cities.

Problems

For argument sake, solar power is also not without its set of problems. Installing the solar panels requires surface areas up to 100 sq. ft for 1 Kw; periodic disposal of storage batteries with toxic components is hazardous and cloud cover drastically reduces power generation, demanding a back-up. However, solar scores more on many other fronts compared to hydro, coal, bio-mass, wind, nuclear and such other sources of power.

Despite the growing popularity of solar power, there is a lack of clarity on many fronts, which we need to look into in the coming days. Even the installation cost may vary case by case, and return on investment may not appear attractive but there is nothing to lose in making enquiries about it and allocate a budget while planning a building. In the long term, we can be the winners.

Respect the earth

Can we sustain ourselves without depleting natural resources, so that all future generations also get to live a life like ours?

If we get to stay in a hotel room, we look around before checking out to see if we left behind any belongings. For once, let us also look around to see in what condition we are leaving it.

Most often it’s such a mess, every hotel has to employee a fleet of house-keeping staff to clean it and ready for the next guest. Can we stay in a hotel room and leave it as if we have not used the room?

Closer home, we see how people read a newspaper and then leave it clumsy, folded in all impossible ways. Can we read and put the papers back such that the next reader will also like to pick it up? We can watch a table in a fine dine restaurant where food is served with utmost care and presentation, which after the guests leave, would appear poles apart with the messiest looks. Can we leave it clean and neat, though the dishes are used?

All the order, beauty and patterns of a flower market are gone once the sales are over, and if not cleaned immediately, next morning there may be no market thanks to the rot and stench caused by the leftovers. Should it always be so?

Any reader would say these are factual observations, but hypothetical questions, because the conditions before and after using cannot be the same. Humans tend to create disorder and wastage after using a space or a product; anyway we make arrangements to put them back in order and cart away the wastages.

Millions of trees have grown and dried without causing a change on earth. Birds live and die leaving no trace of their life. Animals live consuming earth’s food and shelter, as if they have not used earth’s resources. Hence for millions of years, they all continue to be with the earth and the earth is with them. Everything appears to come from this earth and seems to go back to earth. There is a sacred balance on the earth.

Can generations of humans live on earth and leave it for the next generations without damaging it? Can we live and die leaving no trace of destruction, as if we did not live on it? Can we sustain ourselves without depleting the resources of earth, such that all future generations also get to live a life like ours? Once upon a time, in the ancient past, humans might have lived so. What is called as civilized living might have changed it all. If so, are these ideas only paper dreams? Even if we cannot turn the clock back, can we discover newer means of sustainable living?

May be, there is an urgent need to understand our relationship with this planet, how we should treat it and how we should live on it. There is an urgent need to belong to earth. Can we introduce a new term called “Earthians” and re-connect ourselves to earth?

Consumed by consumerism

Our present lifestyle is only creating more garbage and wastage but the construction world is all geared to profit in the rat race for products. 

01bgh-greensens_01_1772898eLet us look around to count the number of products and objects in our homes or offices. It will definitely be called as a waste of time. Try walking into a neighbourhood shop and see how many items are for sale. Or still better, walk along a shopping street, counting the number of retail establishments full of things to sell. All these sound fairly difficult. If so, we dare not even imagine the possibility of counting all that is available in a mega mall.

Why are we talking counting products? Fifty years ago, our seniors had access to possibly one-hundredth of what we have today; a hundred years ago, our elders might have lived with one-thousandth of products that we buy today. This is just an analytical thought, with no real counts. However, because we have access to thousand times more products, can we say our lives are thousand times better than our forefathers?

The generations who lived before us were no less than us in any way. We may claim advanced technology, faster life, better health care, worldwide networking and such others; so too they can claim more leisure than pressure, deeper social networking, balanced environment, abundance of resources, absence of contamination and such others. This comparison is not to throw open a challenge about whose life is better, but only to realise what have we lost and gained.

Once there was the problem of deficit, and now we have the problem of the surplus, at least with an increasing number of people in our urban centres. While the purchase power is increasing, India also continues to house the single largest number of poor people in the world. New Product Introduction (NPI) is what everyone is talking about, from salt to software; from creativity to consumption.

Our daily life seems to be no more controlled by ourselves, but a hundred other factors including peer pressure, technological upgradation, surplus income, gadgets offering comfort, standardised employee benefits, incentives of varied kinds and of course global consumerist trends. Naturally, all these will only lead to more production, more purchases, more wastage and more garbage. Our younger generation, already accustomed to many modern gadgets, may even wonder how our elders ever lived and managed to survive without cars, computers, cameras and phones.

The construction world is all geared up to profit in this rat race for products and profits. Today we can buy kitchen sinks at Rs. 80,000; jacuzzi at Rs. 4 lakh; toilet wall tiles at Rs. 800 per sq. ft.; shower taps at Rs. 10,000; this list can go on. Are these gadgets judiciously priced? How did once people live without them? Why are we not continuing manufacturing the same proven product, instead go on replacing every product too often?

Is it ever going to be possible now, to live with less, or say with the least again?