Sun and Rivers Powering India

India must cross through the Indo-US Nuclear Deal through NSG and US Senate fast. But nuclear power plants will take time to come up. India will have to live with coal-based power plants. It must make it as much cleaner as possible with technology upgradation. With all seriousness, India must also explore every possible avenue to get over its power shortages. Alternatively, it must stop dreaming to become globally important economy.

India has two other resources in plenty that can meet its power requirement easily, if executed intelligently. Both have one unique advantage that it doesn’t create waste in process of electricity generation. First is naturally sunlight. The second to me is smaller (3-10 MW) hydel power plant that will not require dislocation of people living in hinterland, and so will n’t have the usual objections from local people.

Scientists long ago calculated that an hour’s worth of the sunlight bathing the planet held far more energy than humans worldwide could use in a year.” Though ‘the first practical devices for converting light to electricity were designed more than half a century ago’, the challenge for the scientists and technocrats remains alive. The technology requires some real revolutionary breakthrough to make it substitute for fossil fuel generated electricity. Can India prove its low-cost innovation skills by using its solar and river potentials to the best?

Anand Mahindra, CEO, Mahindra &Mahindra in the leader article ‘Harvest The Sun‘ in Times of India on 23 Aug 2008 raises certain queries and expects India to think big in fixing the target for solar power generation.

The National Action Plan on Energy recently released by the prime minister sets a goal to increase production of photovoltaics to 1,000 MW per year. The solar mission targets 10,000 MW installed capacity by 2020. Why can’t India think bigger?
According to expert’s estimate, dedicating just 0.3 per cent of India’s land area for solar power through Solar Thermal Electricity Generation (STEG) could meet our entire electricity needs. A one-megawatt solar plant running continuously at full capacity can power 778 households each year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

According to Mr. Mahindra, STEG technology consists of curved mirrors that concentrate sunlight onto a receiver tube to heat a working fluid flowing through it. The remaining part of the plant is very similar to a conventional power plant.

Solar energy payback is merely five months compared to a useful life of more than 25 years. Most importantly, STEG technology is the only solar technology that provides “firm” power and allows plants to dispatch power when demanded.
But STEG costs between Rs 7.50 and Rs 17 per kWh compared to Rs 1.40 for certain coal-based plants. In India, many consumers have to use captive power plants to back for outages. The installed capacity of captive power plants in India is more than 20,000 MW, approximately 40 per cent of which are based on diesel generator (DG) sets. The real cost of generation of diesel power comes to around Rs 17/kWh adding the subsidy component. So while STEG may cost more compared to conventionally generated power, these costs are competitive with peak load power costs generated by DG sets.

However, with ongoing researches, the US Department of Energy estimates the cost of STEG power generation to come down to Rs 1.50-2.50/kWh in the next 15 years, which would be comparable to conventional power. Research priority in India must include solar power technologies. Mr. Mahindra suggests India to put all plans on the fast track, and become STEG technology leaders and suppliers to the world.

India is gifted with plenty of water resources from Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh that can generate electricity. Other states have also many rivers. The estimated potential of small hydropower- micro-mini and small hydro schemes up to three-mw capacity, in India is about 15000 MW or more. Unfortunately, India is moving very slow on small hydel power projects. One of my friends was behind one such project near Manali that is now in operation. As I foresee one can create many small power generation facilities on a single water stream. Some are already being set up. Dharmshala Hydro Power Ltd is setting up two mini hydel power plants in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. In the first project, a 7.7-mw and another 5-mw.

Prof V.K. Damodaran, an energy consultant on UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organisation) Mission suggests India to take small hydropower sector seriously and to emulate China’s policies of small hydropower units. China, according to him, adds up to 6,000 MW of small hydropower capacity every year and the total installed capacity from this source should be about 50,000 MW. From 2010, the country hopes to add 10,000 MW of small hydropower capacity every year. It has estimated its potential at 1,50,000 MW of which it believes it can realise at least 1-lakh MW.

Why should India talk of only big huge projects, when a number of successful small hydropower units are operative even in a backward state of Bihar on Sone Eastern Main Canal? Why is India hesitating in taking this course? As my friend told me, ‘the private sector and small entrepreneurs can help building the small hydropower plants. However, the bureaucratic delay and corruption takes away all the charm.’

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