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INVESTIGATIVE/ANALYTICAL REPORTS

COVER STORY


stronomers who often


threaten the world with
their dire warnings of
PDVVLYHVRODUDUHVWKDWPD\
engulf the earth, have today
some pleasant companions
called energy analysts, who
have traced a silver lining
amidst the dark environmental clouds surrounding the
planet. The silver lining traces
the unprecedented downward
cost curve of solar power, despite the decline in petroleum
SULFHV)RUWKHUVWWLPHVRODU
power, hitherto considered a

luxury for the well-to-do and


an add-on in the Asian energy scenario has become a
JDPH FKDQJHU $QG WKH UVW
ever challenges posed by the
massive solar wave need to
address technological as well
as institutional and policy aspects.
The price of a solar panel
per watt in 1975 was around
one US dollar and the worldwide installation of solar panels totalled just 2 mega watts
(MW). From 2005, a dramatic
upturn of production began,

accompanied by a steep fall


in price, set to hit just six US
cents per watt with the total installed capacity reaching 65,000 MW worldwide.
And the downward spiral
continues. Mr Vishal Shah of
Deutsche Bank, a leading energy analyst, has forecast a
further 40 per cent decline in
the price of solar power by the
end of 2017.
)RU WKH UVW WLPH VRODU
power has become cheaper
WKDQ FRDOUHG JHQHUDWLRQ
in India, following an all-

A solar explosion
on the earth:
the challenge ahead in Asia

The unprecedented fall in the cost of solar power has triggered a wave of initiatives
DFURVV$VLDIRULWVXWLOLVDWLRQWRPLQLPL]HJOREDOZDUPLQJ+RZHYHUUHDOLVLQJWKHLPSUHVVLYHWDUJHWVVHWDOVRFDOOVIRUFRXQWU\VSHFLFSROLF\UHIRUPVDQGDZLGHUDQJHRI
enabling infrastructure. Above all, the basic technology itself would need upgrading
WRLPSURYHQRWRQO\LWVSRZHUHIFLHQF\EXWDGGUHVVWKHKLGGHQGDQJHURIHQYLURQPHQtal pollution resulting from the production of solar cells. The author has brought out
the unique challenges facing Asia in realising solar power on a massive scale, which
KDVEHFRPHDJDPHFKDQJHULQWKHUHJLRQIRUWKHUVWWLPH

March 15 - April 14, 2016

Solar irrigation pumps

time low tariff of Rs. 4.34 per


unit (kwh) quoted by a winning bidder, a Finland-based
UPIRU VHWWLQJ XS D 0:
grid-connected solar plant.
The decline in the cost of
solar power comes at a time,
when world leaders have resolved to cut the carbon emission of their countries in order
to reduce global warming and
save the Earths environment.
On the eve of the recent Paris
Climate Summit, several
countries announced their
plans to cut their carbon emission. India pledged to cut its
emission intensity (the ratio of
a countrys carbon emission to
its economic output) by 33-35
per cent by 2030 and ensure
that 40 per cent of its installed
power capacity comes from
non-fossil sources. Towards

this end, India plans to add


by 2022, 175 gigawatts (GW)
of non-fossil power, of which
100 GW would be from solar
energy and 75 GW from wind
power. Today (2016) the countrys solar power capacity has
crossed 5,000 MW. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar
Mission (launched in 2010),
planned to set up 20,000 MW
by 2022 would now aim at a
YHIROGLQFUHDVH
China too has disclosed to
add 100 GW of solar power by
2020. What is more, China has
set the world record for solar
power capacity. Its installed
capacity has crossed 43.2 GW
according to its National Energy Administration. Its photovoltaic cell (which converts
sunlight into electric current)
capacity has increased 13-fold

in the last four years. Last


year (2015) alone, it installed
16.5 GW capacity.
An overview of the thrust
towards solar power in Asia
reveals the resolve to adopt it
without delay. However, counWU\VSHFLF SUREOHPV SRVH D
challenge to the stakeholders
in realising the target.
In India, one of the main
FKDOOHQJHVLVQGLQJDGHTXDWH
land for large-scale solar
plants, which at US$80/Mwh
would be cheaper than most
JDVUHG JHQHUDWRUV 7KRXJK
ready provision of land is
promised to bidders for solar
power plants in India, land acquisition on a large scale is a
GLIFXOWDQGORQJSURFHVV'Hprivation of land of the tribal
population in the forests is
prohibited. It is not easy to

The world is moving more quickly towards renewable energy than people thought
even a year ago.
-- Grant King, CEO, Origin Energy, Australian Energy Utility (2016).

March 15 - April 14, 2016

6XQRZHUKHDG

convert any part of the existing forest, even if degraded,


for solar power installation.
In fact, the country has announced a plan to enlarge its
forest area to absorb at least
2.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Constraints of land availability have driven planners
to try locating solar plants in
lakebeds. For example, InGLDVUVWRDWLQJVRODUSRZHU
plant has come up on a lake
in Kolkata. The Vikram Solar
Power Company, which has
built it in collaboration with
Arka Renewable Energy College, states that it is capable
of generating at least 14 Mwh
in a year, connected to the local grid. A plant of this type
can be scaled-up for use in
any similar environment. The
plant has overtaken a similar


March 15 - April 14, 2016

-DSDQHVHRDWLQJSODWIRUPDV
the biggest in the world.
Another innovative plant
is erected on the downstream
slope of a dam across a river
in Maharashtra. The 20-MW
solar plant has been built by
Rays Power Experts, a solar
solutions company.
Where land is available,
it would be useful to see the
VFRSH IRU LQFUHDVLQJ WKH HIciency of solar power generation, by trying out innovative
ideas such as locating the heat
UHHFWRUVDFFRUGLQJWRWKHSDWWHUQ IRXQG LQ WKH VXQRZHU
head.
Utilisation of solar power
WRPD[LPL]HWKHEHQHWWRHQG
users is as challenging as the
cost-effective production of the
energy. Indias ongoing plans
in this respect would be of interest. One of the key applica-

tions is in rooftop installation


of solar panels. It is planned
to install 40 GW of the 100
GW of solar power capacity
in rooftop systems. The countrys installed rooftop component is estimated at 525 MW
as of October, 2015. A 30 per
cent capital subsidy for rooftop installations is given to
boost their use. It would still
be out of reach for a majority
of households in India, not to
speak of huts in slums, which
can hardly have rooftop installations. It would need an innovative strategy to include the
largest number of households
possible.
The other major area of
utilising solar power in India
is pump irrigation by farmers. The country has 20 million grid-connected pumpsets
and 10 million diesel-run sets.

emerge as the demand goes


up.
It would be interesting
to observe how the problem
of storage of solar power has
been addressed in an innova7KHVXQRZHUKDVEHHQ
tive way. Spain has shown
found to be a good guide
that storage of solar power is
provided by Nature for oppossible in a commercial-scale
timising the orientation of
plant.
the mirrors used for the
The other issue not wideproduction of solar enerly appreciated is that solar
J\ 7KH RZHU KHDG KDV D
Fermat spiral
power installations too need
unique design, known as
states. The task is entrusted maintenance to keep the panthe Fermat spiral. Each elWR WKH (QHUJ\ (IFLHQF\ 6HU- els clean. Photovoltaic cells
ement is set at a constant
vices Limited, a public sector degrade under layers of dust
angle of 137.5 degrees to
undertaking under the Min- and grime. Ironically, the rethe previous one. The patistry of Power. It is planned gions favoured for solar power
tern also follows a ratio of
to save Rs. 6,000 Crore in the installations in India - RajFibonacci numbers - a seQH[W WKUHH WR YH \HDUV ,Q D asthan, Gujarat, central Maquence of numbers whereVLJQLFDQW PRYH WKH 0LQLV- harashtra, parts of Andhra
in a following number is
try recently proposed to roll Pradesh - are fairly dry where
the sum of the two previout 30 million solar irrigation water is scarce.
ous two numbers (as in
pumps for farmers in the next
The inherent nature of
0,1,1,2, 3,5,8, 13, 21, 34, 55,
YH\HDUVDWDWRWDOFRVWRI86 solar power poses a challenge
89, 144, 233, 377,610, 987
1 billion. A subsidy of 80 per in connecting with national or
etc.). If, for example, there
cent is proposed to be given for regional power grids. Dependare 34 spirals in the clockevery set of 5Hp capacity.
ing as it does on the weather
wise direction, there will
A related problem is avail- to produce energy, there is an
be 21 or 55 spirals in the
ability of groundwater. Mas- LQHYLWDEOH XFWXDWLRQ RI VXSsive exploitation of ground- ply of solar power, making its
counter-clockwise
direcwater may have long-term integration with a grid a huge
tion, depending on the size
implications. It would, there- FKDOOHQJHDVLWZRXOGEHGLIRIWKHRZHULQJKHDGV7KH
fore, be prudent to prepare a cult to ensure its contribution
number 34 is in between 21
satellite imagery base map of to meet peak demand.
and 55 in the sequence!
the groundwater potential in
It would be interesting to
When the pattern is
the
areas
of
installation.
see
how Australian projects
followed on the ground in
Indias experience has plan to master the technollocating the solar panels,
underlined
the importance of ogy of integrating distributed
no mirror shades the other
two other issues. One is stor- renewable energy generation,
and there is a space saving
age of solar power in rooftop involving millions of solar
of almost 16 per cent.
systems, which calls for recy- rooftops into its national grid.
The application was
clable lithium-ion batteries. Queensland will soon be the
observed by Dr. Alexander
The worlds annual lithium biggest electricity provider
Mitsos and Cores Noore of
production is 8.3 Gwh (2014). from rooftop installations in
MIT in 2012.
About 95 per cent of lithium is the state.
It has become necessary to found in only a few countries
In this context, an interUHSODFH DOO HQHUJ\LQHIFLHQW including China, Chile, Ar- esting technology has been
pumps. It is proposed to replace gentina, Bolivia Australia and developed by Tata Power, Inat least seven million grid- the United States. Geopolitics dias largest integrated power
connected pumpsets in four based on lithium is bound to company. It has installed the

6XQRZHU
shows the
way!

March 15 - April 14, 2016

Solar power
round-the-clock!
Storage of solar power
generated is a challenge. An
innovative project has come
up in Spain. It is the worlds
UVW FRPPHUFLDOVFDOH VRlar tower and storage plant
that has provided non-stop
24-hour power - 19.9MW throughout the year. It started operating in May 2011,
two months after the Fukushima nuclear plants meltdown.
Called Gemasolar, the
plant has a 140-m solar tower, surrounded by 2650 heOLRVWDWV PLUURUV WKDWUHHFW
the heat of the sun on to a
collector near the top of the
tower. The plant has stored
molten salt, which is heated
to 565 degrees Celsius and
creates steam for a conventional turbine.
The plant is followed up
by 100 MW plants in Spain
and another 150 MW plant
in Morocco. The builders had
to quell rumours that the
plant killed birds, blinded pilots and needed gas back-up!
In the United States too,
a similar plant has been a
success. A solar tower with
thermal storage, built by Solar Reserve, a private company, has started generating at
its full 110 MW capacity for
supply even at night time to
Las Vegas and other parts of
Nevada. Known as Crescent
Dunes, it has molten salt receiver - a key patented component - that has reportedly
exceeded the design expectations.


March 15 - April 14, 2016

UVWHYHUQHWPHWHULQJIRUWKH
rooftop solar system in Mumbai. The meter in the system
can record the import and export of power and a consumer
can drive surplus units generated by solar units into the
distribution grid of the company for future adjustment
in billing the dues. A similar
network for rural areas could
be explored.
China, which has established a world record of installed solar power for a country, also dominates the solar
photovoltaic market in the
$VLD3DFLFUHJLRQ7KHFRXQtry has been able to deliver
cost-effective products mainly
because of its use of amorphous silicon (which does not
have a crystalline structure),
which is cheaper to produce,
WKRXJKWKHHIFLHQF\LVRQO\
per cent. Chinese researchers
have undertaken research using other materials like thin
OPLQWKHSURGXFWLRQRIVRODU
SRZHUZLWKLQFUHDVHGHIFLHQcy.
One estimate forecast that
the electricity demand in China is not likely to go up beyond
4 per cent this year (2016) and
in several regions the capacity may not be fully utilised!
But given the potential of the
application of solar energy in
various sectors, it would be
reasonable to envisage full
utilisation of the power output.
The cost effectiveness of
solar power has triggered initiatives across Asia to utilise it
as quickly as possible though
each country has its own limitations.
With the average cost of
solar power in the Asian re-

gion likely to go down to 5 US


cents per watt in the near future, it is time to initiate the
next phase of applications beyond power for lighting and
heating. A wide range of applications is possible in these
countries: desalination, distillation, clean drinking water,
storage, cooling systems for
VKDQGRWKHUSHULVKDEOHVDQG
telecom and Internet facilities
at the last mile connectivity
points. The list is more than
these examples. As there is
scope for considerable transfer
of technology from the private
sector of developed countries
and from some developing
countries, there is a need for
a hub to facilitate business
deals. Singapore, with its
credible interactions with international companies, is ideally suited to act as a hub for
promoting solar power at the
HOGOHYHO
Not-with-standing
the
worldwide decline in the price,
the total cost of realising the
installed capacity would be
considerable. The target of
100, 000 MW of solar power
will cost about Rs. 600,000
Crore (US$90 billion) at Rs. 6
Crore per megawatt. It would
demand a substantial allotment of resources, reducing
the outlay on sectors like Education and Health.
It is therefore essential
to attract foreign investment
not only to India but to other
developing countries, especially those in Asia, which
need resources and technology to change over from fossil
fuel-based development. The
recent establishment of the international Solar Alliance envisages an investment of about

9LNUDPRDWLQJVRODUSODQW.RONRWD

Other initiatives across Asia


Indonesia, for example, has a large energy gap. The equatorial country is ideally
VXLWHGWREHQHWIURPVRODUSRZHU<HWXQWLO
recently, its focus has largely been on subsidising its fossil-fuel based energy installations under a protectionist economic policy. It
is estimated that the government had spent
more on fuel subsidies than on infrastructure
and social welfare programmes during 2009
2013. The political and economic climate
has recently changed towards liberalisation
and the country has come out with a laudable energy policy, which seeks to obtain 25
per cent of its power needs from renewable
sources.
Malaysias solar power plant uses the latest polycrystalline 250 Watt technology provided by a Chinese company. The country
plans to reach 2000 MW by 2020. Malaysia
is also making solar panels with Chinese collaboration.
The Philippines too is coming out of
its protectionist shell towards an investor
friendly and market oriented energy policy.
Solar installations near urban centres have
been planned.
Thailand is rapidly becoming a centre of
mega solar power operations in the Region.

Its target of solar power - 20.000 MW by


2036 - is 2.6 times more than its capacity
in 2014.
Bangladesh has set a target of 1740 MW
by 2021 and a tariff of US$0.17/kwh, which
is less than the rate for oil-based supply.
Every month 50 to 60 thousand households
are being connected to solar power. A Singapore company has been given the contract to set up the largest (200 MW) solar
power plant in the country.
Myanmar, which is free from trade
embargoes following political reforms, has
opted for a large (220 MW) solar power
plant. As the economic reforms take hold
under the newly formed democratic set up,
the energy sector is bound to pick up.
Work has begun in Vietnam on 19.2
MW solar power plant.The country has a
plan for 1000 MW. Pakistan is setting up
LWVUVWVRODUSRZHUSDUNZLWK&KLQHVHDVsistance, with a 500 MW plant. Sri Lanka
will use 100 per cent renewable energy to
generate its electricity by 2030, according
WRJRYHUQPHQWRIFLDOV
The Asian Development Bank is providing loan assistance to Nepal for a 50
MW solar power plant.


March 15 - April 14, 2016

LQJWKHHIFLHQF\RIFRQYHUWLQJ
sunlight into electricity, another area calls for R&D. It is
ironical that the production of
solar power, used to reduce the
damage to the environment
caused by fossil fuels, should
lead to another environmental problem. It is in the form
of toxic chemicals used in the
production of polysilicon.
An Environmental Time
bomb
Solar tower with mirrors, Spain
The countryside in China
made
a
stack
of
two
one-moleis
getting
polluted with nuUS$ One trillion by 2030. It is
H[SHFWHG WR EHQHW  PHP- cule thick materials from gra- merous dangerous chemicals.
ber countries, mostly within phene and molybdenum and They include silicon tetrachlothe region bound by the Tropic produced a robust cell, which ULGH VXOSKXU KH[DXRULGH
of Cancer and the Tropic of is thousands of times thinner gallium arsenide, cadmium
Capricorn and enjoy bright than conventional silicon solar telluride, sulphur diselenide,
sunshine for over 300 days in cells. China too has made na- KH[DXRULGH VHOHQLXP K\a year. The mandate of the Al- noscale solar cells, which are GULGHQLWURJHQWULXRULGHLQliance includes universal ac- less than 100th thickness of a GLXP SKRVSKLGH K\GURXRULF
DFLG DQG KH[DXRURHWKDQH
cess to affordable, reliable and piece of paper.
These chemicals seep into the
Meanwhile,
a
multi-discimodern energy services and
upgrading of technology. The plinary engineering team at ground and it is a matter of
Alliance can provide in the the University of Caltech, San WLPHEHIRUHWKH\QGWKHLUZD\
UVW LQVWDQFH WHFKQLFDO DVVLV- Diego, has developed a new RXW WKURXJK VK DQG SODQW WR
tance to member countries to nano particle-based material humans at home and abroad.
for absorbing and converting It is an environmental timeascertain their priorities.
to heat more than 90 per cent bomb literally buried under the
Role of Nanotechnology
As the current wave of so- of sunlight it captures. The ground for the time being.
The emergence of super
lar power takes hold, it is nec- WHFKQRORJ\ FDQ UHWURW H[LVWessary to explore the scope for ing fossil fuel based plants bugs that may defy the hureviewing the basic technology with the new material. Use of man immune system cannot
that sustains it. Nanotech- molten salt for heating in ther- be ruled out. It would therenology offers the best scope. mal storage will ensure supply fore be a wise move to initiate
There is need to enhance the at night also. Stanford Uni- studies to address the problem
HQHUJ\ HIFLHQF\ RI WKH VRODU versity has developed a new of polluting chemicals involved
cell, which is now a maximum way to increase the amount in the technologies used to
of 33.5 per cent per solar pan- RIOLJKWDEVRUEHGE\WKLQOP produce solar power. In fact,
solar cell materials. Boston this is an area where the Alel.
Several American and College and MIT have report- liance for Solar Power can
Chinese universities and a few ed an innovation: a better take the lead role. And India,
Indian institutes are studying light-absorbing surface with Singapore and other countries
the scope for improvement. enhanced nano structured can contribute their expertise
MIT (USA) has shown how thermo-electric materials. It in nano technology to address
the use of nanotechnology can will generate both electricity the problem.
(The author is a wellproduce thinnest and most and hot water.
As new technologies are known science writer)
light-weight solar panels pos
developed
and used in improvsible. Its researchers have


March 15 - April 14, 2016