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Technology for the future

Technology for the future

Two years after its conception, the National Solar Mission— renamed the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission—was formally launched by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 11 January, doubtless to address India’s need for energy security. The mission, one among eight in India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change, incorporates India’s ambitions to generate 20,000MW of electricity through solar energy by 2022. Singh set the tone for the country when he said that “target is doable... We should work single-mindedly to achieve it as a priority national endeavour".

With daily solar radiation of 4-7kWh, the gains of harnessing the sun for the sake of power is indeed huge in India—5,000kWh solar radiation, which is many times greater than the actual power demand.

When considered against India’s total installed solar power generation capacity of approximately 150MW, 30-45% of which is lost to transmission and distribution, going solar is essential. More so because it is estimated that peak demand outstripped supply by almost 15% in 2009—a worrisome deficit for the second fastest growing economy.

India’s challenges are the needs of development and an ever-burgeoning population. The solutions, therefore, to shed the “power-deficit" identity, have to be environment-friendly, recognize the resources we have domestically, and fit the capabilities of our people.

Concentrated solar power (CSP) can harness the sun to provide clean power for our needs. And, it holds the potential for India to lead an all new industry for the rest of the world. The CSP system uses lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus sunlight onto a small area, generating concentrated light and heat. This heat is used to produce steam to run a turbine and generate electricity.

The technology uses off-the-shelf commodity components such as mirrors, turbines and so on, and is also known to have higher efficiencies in solar-to-electricity conversion, nearly 15% more than other solar technologies. CSP can also fit distributed applications, taking electricity and heat to villages. From utility-scale grid-connected plants to small-scale distributed plants, CSP has the potential to make solar power a reality across India.

CSP, unlike other solar technologies, leverages India’s capabilities in mechanical engineering and thermodynamics, the same capabilities prevalent in the conventional power industry. It is pertinent to note here that a majority of the equipment required for large CSP plants are already made in India. We expect that the remaining components will also be manufactured in India, leading to full indigenization.

With total indigenization, India can cut costs and make the solar power grid competitive, paving the way for realizing its potential of becoming a world leader. In time, the country can become a manufacturing and development hub for the rest of the world looking to build their own solar power plants.

The success of the first phase of the mission is critical to ensure the industry gets off to a strong start. This will not only help make solar power a reality, but also give birth to a new, global industry for India.

This year’s Budget reaffirms the importance of renewable energy and CSP in realizing the energy security agenda of the country. The cess on coal and the clean energy fund and the excise reductions on solar equipment are all positive. It shows the government’s focus on making the solar industry a reality. The Budget thrust on reducing costs for CSP to deliver the objectives of the solar mission is convivial for solar thermal players, which will also give rise to a vibrant local manufacturing sector. This will create significant employment and enhance the energy security of India by ultimately reducing imports. Setting up of the National Clean Energy Fund and the cess on coal will ensure focus on much needed research and development in the clean technology sector and ensure leadership for India in this new and vibrant sector.

Yogi Goswami is chief science and technology adviser, SunBorne Energy. Comments are welcome at otherviews@livemint.com

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