Power from the sky
The 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?
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.
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.