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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Technology at what cost? Why solar electricity is not efficient in India?

There is big hoopla about eco green products. But is it really effectively followed or is it just blindly carried out to mislead the people and to get subsidies from govt?

Quoting from Deccan Chronicle dated 6th Feb 2010 .. an article by GAUTAM BHATIA, architect and writer who has built extensively in India and the US

SOME YEARS ago, a Delhi firm invested in a "smart" building .. A 12-storey structure .. designed by a Japanese architect, using American and French technologies and built under South Korean supervision.
This was supposedly user-friendly intelligent architecture at its best, technology's answer to India's future.
I saw it on a sweltering June afternoon. Near the entrance, a remote sensor detected my approach and -through electronic identification -alerted the control centre inside, of my presence. Within seconds, the door opened. A complicated e-device worth `22 lakh had eliminated a Haryanvi guard at `6,000 per month. Further my weight on the lift lobby floor triggered six lifts into action; they all came racing down to pick me up. Activated by complicated circuitry that cost `28 lakh, the intelligent building had effectively done away with the need for a push button. Upstairs, the glass-shell of the building was surrounded by Japanese micro louvers and heat sensors at the ridiculously low summer discount rate of `2.8 crore. An elegant, electronically-activated "intelligent" device had happily eliminated the ordinary screen of reed chicks at `12 per square foot. Moreover, the smart structure, built at seven times the rate of a conventional building, had effectively done away with Indian skills and labour -still the cheapest in the world -and joined the ranks of world class architecture. Expensive, overdesigned and completely oblivious to local conditions. But smart, nonetheless.

Clearly as pointed out this is a sheer waste of money ( after all the builder has nothing to loose, the owners pay for it because it is fashionable to say that we stay in a high tech Green colony. But if energy is wasted ( e.g. six lifts rushing down )then where is the overall green savings?

Solar Electricity is similarly an example of mis-utilisation of a very good concepts for monitory advantage.
It is well known and almost universally accepted fact that the Photo Voltaic electricity production is very uneconomical but is non polluting, so the govt pays heavy subsidies for the propagation of this technology into cities and rural areas.
But let's see what happens:

1. Cost : The Solar power generator ( as per cost details I asked yesterday ) is Rs 7500 for a 60W panel.
Let's look at technical figures 60W is a misnomer in the sense that it generates 60W when the panel is pointed DIRECTLY towards sun in clear sky conditions.
If you look at the solar power installations ( Those lamp posts with a slanting panel atop it ) you will see that the panels are covered with dust and are pointing to the sun during some 2 months and that too for 2 hrs at the most in those months. Clearly you get about 50% to 55% of the rated power.

So you may be able to use such 60W panel for a 40W tubelight for 4-5 hrs everyday. But for that you have to Invert the 12 V DC output to 220V/50Hz AC. That means a loss of 10% power ( so power availability is reduced by about an hour ) in addition to about Rs 2000, the cost of inverter.

So such system would cost the end customer about Rs 10000 including installation and changes in the existing home wiring. A tube light, working on domestic power supply, used for 4 hrs a day will come consume 4Hrs*30 days *40W= 4.800 KwH, or about 5 units of electricity every month costing about 5units * 3Rs per unit = 15Rs in a month.

So to recover that cost you require Rs 10000/Rs 15 = about 650 months. We leave it to you to convert that figure into years because that approaches to a lifespan required to reach senior citizen status after birth.

2. Maintenace: The solar cell will give rated power only when the panel is clean. How do you ensure cleanliness over so many years? Moreover the panel's own efficiency of electricity generation starts dropping significantly after a few years making it uneconomical after 20 years. ( this is as per data published by manufacturers themselves )

Then why everybody is propagating solar power? Money honey, money!

All over the world governments give subsidy to the solar power sector because it is pollution free. The biggest mistake that the government makes is that it subsidizes production whereas it should have paid for Research and Development and paid more for more efficient systems so that there will be serious effort towards research in more efficiency than for more production and mis representation of products to get subsidies.
E.g. Visit any big government installation. You will see on its compound walls wires running on top, warning the people to not to touch them because they carry " electricity generated by solar power"? What is so special about solar power ? subsidy naturally!!

There will be a small solar panel ( costing a few thousand ) somewhere in one corner but the subsidy is for TOTAL installation running into 10s of Lakhs of rupees. And of course there is a good engineering practice of 'redundancy' ... in case the solar panel fails to deliver power due to some reason then there is always a backup from main power and if that fails sometime then there is a generator backup. So, who is bothered whether the solar panel generates electricity or not?

This is an extreme example of how the subsidies work but then let businessmen do what they want to because it is their job to earn money.

Talking of efficiency : A Solar power producer ( an NRI, new entrant who recently returned to India, hence he had some openness to talk ) had put his product in one of the discussion forums for debate.
I posted a reply to his article and told him that an addition of tracking system would make the system efficient by at least 30% and so the cost he would be able to reduce his panel size making it substantially cheaper even after including the cost of tracking system which would be fractional to the total cost.

His reply was, yes it will become more efficient but he would not be able to compete with others and the tracking system would involve a component of maintenance.

He has a valid point .. but then it is a vicious circle .. you will never put efforts towards efficient systems because the government subsidy does not increase with efficiency. It treats all systems equal, so everyone would try to use standard ( read imported ) off the shelf product and sell it with an Indian name plate instead of doing at least some resaerch to improve efficiency.
It is required therefore that the subsidy should be proportional to system efficiency. Or at least the subsidy should be reduced for inefficient systems when compared to best and efficient systems available in market.

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