Energy 2.0

Role of Solar Power in India’s Energy Security

Posted on: July 8, 2008

Climate change and energy security have become twin critical concerns of our time. The main option for mitigation of climate change is to transition to a low-carbon energy economy. Solar energy offers enormous potential for a much-needed quick transition. As of now, although grid-grade solar power may seem expensive, vast possibilities of demand-side management using viable solar energy devices exist even today. Emerging technologies like ‘concentrating solar power’ (CSP) offer avenues for competitive production of electricity by as early as 2015. Alongwith other renewables like wind, biomass etc, solar energy can play a vital role in solving or ameliorating the two most critical problems of our time. What is required is an imaginative, forward-looking, and bold policy initiative.


As suggested by President Kalam, if efficiency of solar photovoltaic can be increased from the present 15% to 50% without increasing the cost, we can have all the power we need at competitive costs by covering a small fraction of our land (the land required can be further reduced by putting photovoltaic cells on all rooftops).The surplus solar power during daytime can be used to split water to produce hydrogen that can provide electricity at night and can also be used to run motor vehicles using fuel cells as  engines.


Solar energy has a large potential in the country. The average solar insolation in the country is 6 kWh/m²/day. The present conversion efficiency of commercially available photovoltaic cells is less than 15%. With this efficiency, the potential of covering just 5 million hectares of land with photovoltaic cells is 1200 mtoe/year. The photovoltaic technology is proven but expensive and the cost of electricity exceeds Rs 20/kWh at present. Potential to reduce costs and increase efficiency exists and a technology mission for this is highly desirable.


Solar thermal is economical for water heating. Much of its potential has yet to be exploited. Appropriate policies need to be designed to accelerate the exploitation of this potential. Solar thermal generation has not found acceptance globally, though the potential to use it in hybrid systems may be there.


New domestic sources: The domestic resource base can also be expanded through developing hitherto poorly developed or new sources of energy. Some of these resources may require R&D to make them economical. Among these are …


Solar: Solar energy, if it can be economically exploited, constitutes a major energy resource of the country. Solar electricity generated through thermal route or through photovoltaic cells provides comparable amount of electricity per unit of collector area.


Both currently provide about 15% conversion efficiency. While it is clear that the ratio of capital cost to efficiency of energy conversion needs to be brought down significantly, solar thermal and solar photovoltaic route to electricity offers major scope for enhancing India’s energy security. Nanotechnology holds a hope for making a major breakthrough in solar photovoltaic technology. It is stressed here that solar water heating is cost effective for India today and can reduce India’s demand for oil, gas, and coal if pursued to meet the demand for hot water in industry and households.


Energy efficient buildings can be designed through solar passive architecture concepts so that energy requirements of heating and cooling could be reduced. Solar buildings that cost an additional 5%–10% have the potential of saving up to 30%–40% energy. Subsidy for preparation of DPR and construction of such buildings is proposed for continuation during the 11th Plan @ Rs 100/m² of covered area for which a provision of Rs 50 crore is proposed. In addition, Rs 25/m² is proposed for training and another Rs 25/ m² for information and publicity, for which there exists a subsidy provision of Rs 12.5 crore.


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