This article written by Ritesh Pothan was published in the July / August edition of Infraline Magazine
Our nation has the good fortune of coming into its own at the time when solar is gaining increasing acceptability both as a grid and off grid solution. Every unit of power increases in multiplies the social and economic status of the receiver. Power is a fundamental right of a citizen and should be treated as such. The government has the responsibility to ensure that power is provided to every corner of the country which sadly isn’t the case with more than 400 million citizens still energy deprived.
Sustained industrial growth at 8% will need energy generation to grow manifold in order to support the economy. The anticipated national electricity demand is 900GW by 2030 while the actual supply is just 125GW today (Table 2). Current nameplate generation as of April 2013 is 223.625 GW as per Central Electricity Authority India, while the actual MW delivered to the grid is barely 125 GW as of June 2012, a disparity of more than 40%. It appears that generation PLF is way below optimal while the rest is lost in Transmission and Distribution. Just adding new power plants without revamping the existing infrastructure is pouring water into a leaking bucket and in this case, one with a large hole.
Table 1:- Source – CEA Monthly Report April 2013
For 2012-13, total power generation increased by just four per cent to 911.7 billion units. During the year, thermal power generation increased by 7.3 per cent to 760.4 billion units. Hydel power generation, on the other hand, fell sharply by 12.9 per cent to 113.6 billion units, whereas nuclear power generation increased by a mere 1.8 per cent to 32.9 billion units.
|State / Region||
Table 2:- Source: CEA Load Generation Balance Report 2012 – 2013
893,371 GWhr units were generated from a total of ~224 GW power plants which translates into just 40.03 lakh KWhr units per MW, a number which can be met by deploying approx. 2.7 MWp of Solar with storage for every MW of conventional Coal, Nuclear, Thermal power plant.
Most states in India have promoted short term expedient solutions rather than the right ones. Coal is once such example with the current scarcity of availability and quality. The real solutions lie in the ability to improve efficiency and generate from recurring sources rather than pillage what little Mother Nature has left.
An equivalent capital amount spent on storage alleviates the need for raw material like coal, nuclear fuel, gas.. for 25 years and more. This has untold advantages with annualized fuel cost at just 30 lakhs per annum in place of a few crores per annum for conventional sources. Also with increasing cell efficiencies the cost of generation via PV is on its way down.
Baseload can also be provided using Hydro, Grid Storage and other distributed mechanisms. India is a country blessed with abundant Hydro (~40GW) due to its many mountain ranges with sunny days almost 300+ days of the year. Balancing Solar with Hydro could be the easiest way of covering peak energy concerns for the grid. Solar peaks during the summers, at time when Hydro is at its lowest ebb and vice versa during the rainy season, Hydro is at a surplus while Solar generates the lowest. For the rest of the year, running solar plants in the day and conserving ~25% of the water in the evenings, results in a dramatically cost efficient solution of ~140 GW possible today while improving water security as well.
States which have given political precedence to solutions are suffering invariably as planning has been shoddy while lacking execution. The renewable department for the centre has promoted Wind, Biomass and Hydro in the past with actual success eluding it especially in Biomass due to fuel cartelization. Wind with its non-schedulable and non-peak generation, is a story fuelled by corporate profits which hasn’t met the needs of the nation and is only nameplate in capacity. Tamil Nadu is an extreme case in point with Wind contributing to over 50% of nameplate MW capacity but generating less than 20% of needed energy. The state is in a crisis with flight of capital and industries moving to better destinations. Only an inspired deployment of Solar on all fronts could stem the tide.
Days of power outages in TN and AP are common, with industries crippled by continuous load shedding and frequent infrastructure issues, needing to run on Diesel Generators consistently for at least 4 hours of the day. Industries are so crippled that they are pulling dedicated power lines from the national grid and buy power from traders, with Discoms unable to meet basic needs due to political interference and incompetence.
Solar has the highest potential in reducing energy poverty in low density locations especially in rural as well as agricultural activity where power is provided on an intermittent basis due to low returns and high costs. Tamil Nadu, a state that suffers acutely from power shortages is taking steps in the right direction providing a subsidy of almost 80% for Solar Pumps and is encouraging the need for net metering so that power can be supplied to the grid by residential systems as well. Kerala is another affected state promoting residential systems using additional subsidies.
Solar homes with storage can also route stored power back into the grid during peak hours using Time of Day (TOD) Feed in tariffs. This has the capability to insulate users and locations from the vagaries of load shedding. This is quite possible if subsidies for Solar PV and heating are increased to 70% for residential / rural requirements, a much better way to spend Rs. 2,00,000 Crores rather than bailing out inefficient utilities.
Waste is an abundant resource in India which has the potential to resolve a large part of energy and environmental needs for concentrated urban areas but hasn’t received the standing ovation it needs due to government and political lacunae. Countries like Sweden and Iceland have taken the lead in renewable technologies which provide baseload generation as its primary delivery method rather than intermittent technologies which aren’t schedulable.
CSP has seen a dismal start with just 10 MW’s commissioned to date and the future looking bleak. Input costs haven’t reduced to the extent anticipated and tariff’s for PV have decimated the lead that CSP had. Moving forward, the real challenge is to have solar PV supply day peak demand coupled with grid and residential storage for the evenings especially in a distributed generation scenario. PV is now the de facto standard for power generation with CSP’s focus diverted towards hybrid solutions.
Separation of state from the energy delivery mechanism is a primary need of the country if it has to grow relentlessly for the next two decades. Were the currently available transmission, generation and distribution upgraded, we could easily meet our existing generation targets for the next 3 years without installing a single MW more. This would ensure energy security, reduce pollution and cut import bills substantially leading to a stable economy with distributed power delivery reducing AT&C losses substantially.
Privatized Smart and distributed grids coupled with Solar Energy as a generator are imperative in the evolution of power across India and if we don’t recognize it today, our tomorrow is suspect.
Editor’s Note: Ritesh Pothan leads an advisory organization focused on renewable energy projects and also runs two of the largest renewable energy forums on linkedin.com dedicated to the Indian subcontinent.