It is time to speak of Solar – Yes, I mean Solar! - Prof. V. K. Damodaran

In the light of all that bad publicity for solar panels in Kerala recently, many think that it is the wrong time to step into any dialogue on solar energy or even enter into the business of solar energy promotion. I think, not so.

The incident really tells us that the people are alive to the need for solar energy to serve them day in and day out and also that this is a fit area for doing profitable business. So, just like China did a revolution in bringing down the cost of solar photo voltaic (SPV) devices to unimaginable levels from what was three year before at an unbelievable speed, the recent media bash has helped the public to think before they dip their fingers into buying of solar products. It also showed that there are good and bad products, promoters, and integrators in the SPV market. That is good for the solar industry. No lame duck is going to make a fast buck with the heavenly shine! What should we then discuss now on solar? - The past, present and future of those who took the public for a ride, or on how we can embrace the technology safely, affordably and gainfully? The latter should be our choice.

The whole world is now pinning its hopes on how fast SPV and other renewable forms of energy can serve the 1.3 billion people who are yet not connected to electricity and also on how soon we can bring down the excessive use of fossil fuels like coal and oil as a measure of trying to contain the climate change that has expressed itself in many ways in almost all countries of the world. Of the 1.3 billion, more than half, viz. 675 million are in the Asia Pacific region. Of these, 400 million are in India. So, it is an urgent social necessity! A neat 40% of the 1.8 billion ton of oil equivalent of energy being imported globally is by countries in South Asia - mainly China and India. Energy Import prices have been unaffordable (for coal, oil and gas) recently. So, we have to double up with adoption of energy sources which do not entail spiraling drain on foreign exchange year after year, even if initial costs for installation is higher. That is the second compelling reason.

But, how do we start taking renewable energy seriously? Thinking ‘Out of the Box’ only can take us in to unimaginable opportunities and towards wildest of solutions. For example, a two year survey by the Energy Management Centre and KSEB has come to the conclusion that there are 20 lakh inverters connected in our homes, offices and other places of living and work. Even assuming 1 kVA capacity on the average for one such ‘dirty load’ on the electric lines \" just to serve for half or a full hour of power interruption or load shedding per day \" is equivalent to an electric leech sucking ‘juice from the lines’ every day of 2000 MW of connected load. It pollutes the power quality too. Amazing! During staggered load shedding, after the first half hour for the first batch, all of them draw power from the lines to keep ready for the next onslaught which may or may not come. The batteries in them which are weak after a few years into working get charged and dissipated, on and off for all the 24 hours and we, the consumers unknowingly pay for this non-service every month. EB on the other hand can’t manage the peak hours and pay for the peak hour draw, at thrice the rate, any one of us might be paying to them! So, can we take out all these leeches out of the grid and feed them with the ‘solar blood’? A kind of conversion with suitably sized small solar kits from home grown technology and refurbishment by our own local technicians? It would help very much. There are other ways in which drops of small steps can make an ocean of change. We could discuss those in the coming issues.

-       Prof. V. K. Damodaran is an Energy Expert on International Missions and considered worldwide as an authority on Renewable Energy. He is the Managing Director of INGCORE a global non-profit organisation of RE professionals.



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