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Power From 'Solar Grid'
 
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Power From 'Solar Grid'  
 
There is an urgent need to modify policies under Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission to speedily solve power problem in small towns and rural areas while the productive life of people ends with sunset. Here are the reasons and suggestions...   
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Wednesday, June 23, 2010 The most attractive and fascinating features of solar energy are its omnipresence and that it is available for free. The current photo voltaic solar cell may work only with just about 17 per cent to 18 per cent efficiency but what matters is its ability to transform solar energy into usable electrical power from a ‘free non-polluting’ energy source.

solar grid




Currently PV Solar is indeed the best option since no better technology breakthrough is in sight usable on a mass scale for the next few years. The credit therefore goes to the current government for taking a bold initiative and setting an ambitious target of 2500 megawatts of solar electric Power by 2012 and 20000 megawatts by 2020. The primary aim of Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) is to speedily augment inadequate electrical power hurting our inclusive development.

The Sun delivers more energy to the earth in one hour than what the world currently uses in a year! Therefore, it is our innovation in structuring policies that will enable us to realise our dream of extending productive life of our rural folks that today sadly ends with sunset.

Power Shortage Blues:
The people worst affected by power shortage and its quality from the copper grid are people in smaller towns and those in rural regions like farmers, artisans and their children. Working people suffer from productivity loss since rural economic activity currently stops at sunset and thereby each rural household loses close to 15 man-hours each day. Children also suffer since they can’t study at night or learn by watching television. Women suffer due to their inability to get informed from a wide variety of info-entertainment available non-stop via television.

Solar power can correct this since, unlike a copper grid, a solar Grid is available even in deep hinterlands. Only right policies from the government will allow us to use the solar grid to achieve inclusive development rather than waiting for the copper grid that indeed is a long term project with its associated operational delays.

Unfortunately however, our objective to improve power reliability and quality in small towns will not be realised unless the current policy undergoes important changes in order to quickly exploit and benefit from omnipresent “Solar Grid” to augment weakest links in the “Copper Grid”. For realising immediate rural productivity gains the current policy needs a modification.

With this change we can quickly meet the mission objective to make available stable, reliable and uninterrupted power to a vast population that lives outside metros and big cities. Let us examine why in depth.

Policy Lacunae:
The current policy allows only large solar energy plants of over one megawatt capacity to feed power into a 33kV grid. This portion of the grid basically is a ‘low impedance node’ and therefore has more stable power than the power available in small towns and fringe rural areas served from 3.3KV and a lower voltage grid primarily since these have high line impedance.

The feeder capacity is mostly inadequate as one goes down to 440V feeders. Most huge losses of power in the grid are at these fag end delivery points. An impedance analysis of the power grid done by the IEEE reveals that injecting alternative power at high impedance nodes improves the resultant power quality than feeding solar power at low impedance nodes.

That’s why in nearly every country like Germany, Spain, US and China, grid feed is allowed even in 230V line from even 5kW solar power generators. The biggest hardship and problem of all consumers in these areas is the blackout as well as poor quality fluctuating power.

Big industrial customers drawing power from 33kV or higher grid point generally receive good quality power. Those receiving power from low voltage feeders today suffer the most. It is true that the solar energy delivered into the 33kV grid will provide additional power from solar plants but this addition of 1 or 2 per cent power into these low impedance grid nodes will not unfortunately improve the quality of power that people in non-metro areas chronically suffer from.

Unlike India, every other country in the world allows solar power to be fed into the grid even at 230V. We need to understand why. The first important reason for this is to ensure adequate return on investment in every plant above 5 to 10kW capacity. This is possible only when the plant is fully loaded at all times due to the harvesting capacity of the plant throughout the time the sun is available.

This is never possible in off-grid plants since self-use power needs are widely variable and rated capacity is kept high to primarily meet peak demand. Thus all such plants have a large portion of their peak capacity available to feed into the grid and thereby harvest full energy.

Only when all such excess power is injected in a grid than one can harvest more solar power from investments made by the country under the scheme.

I am sure huge private investments will be made only when an identical subsidised rate per unit is paid to smaller grid fed solar plants for excess power that such plants will have.

This is how it happens in advanced nations like US, Germany, Spain, and China etc. The Energy needed in small non-industrial towns is at night. So, say, a 50kW plant with grid fed capability can deliver its power into the local high impedance grid during the day and draw that power at night. This will then sharply reduce the need for storing all power in batteries.

Grid Points
The second relates to the power delivery point of a grid. Studies in Spain reveal that feeding even 100kW of solar power in a low voltage grid immediately improves the power delivered to local people. So for bringing about quick improvement in availability of quality power in energy starved areas, our best option is to follow the Europeans and Americans and feed solar power into a local low voltage grid. The technology of measuring such energy feed is universally well established and used everywhere else in the world enabling the power utility to pay those who feed solar power into the grid.

There are many more reasons to promote distributed solar power generations than buying solar power only from big plants of one megawatt and above.

The first and the foremost reason is the fact that there is practically no financial advantage in having just large plants. The investment in a solar power plant is the same per watt of solar power. A 10kW plant will cost just 10 per cent of the cost of 100kW plant or the cost of 1 megawatt plant will be 10 times the cost of a 100kW plant. This is because the basic PV panel is the most important part of the plant cost and its power capacity is about 250Wp to 300Wp.

One just has to add even more panels to build a larger plant. Since the economy of scale doesn’t give any advantage, distributed generation is considered to be a better concept by experts than generating in bulk. This in turn means that such smaller but more effective solar energy plants could be created by medium size enterprises for local areas creating local jobs.

The second reason relates to the location of the feed into the copper grid. Feeding power at high impedance nodes will cause immediate power quality improvement. Consider say ten 10 to 50kW solar plants in areas near a town feed their power into the local lower voltage grid.

This will immediately improve the stability and reliability of the power available to the local people served from that feeder. In such a case, many local investors will come forward to invest in several smaller power plants within a town or a village. Investment in all these plants will be also profitable if the government buys power from these plants at the same rate that they currently pay to big plants feeding power into the 33kV grid.

Benefits Of Change
Feeding excess surplus power into the grid from ‘self use’ solar generators will also improve the power quality in the neigbourhood. If an industry in a small town sets up say a 50 or 100kW plant for its own captive use, it always has some excess power to feed to the grid. If this excess solar power is fed into the grid, it will not only help the country harvest more power but also load such plants to their full capacity so long as the sun is shining. Once this happens a large number of local entrepreneurs will set up such small plants. Experiences of solar power installations in the world also show that smaller solar power plants are easier to maintain than bigger plants. This also helps in facilitating local employment.

The third reason relates to a large open space that solar power plants need. One major problem with solar power plant is an unusually large ground space that it needs per kilowatt of power. As much as one square meter of area is needed for generating 100W of peak power! Location has to be such that there are now trees and structures casting shadows on a solar array. The place also needs to be secure and free from distractions like birds and monkeys. It is easier to find such place on terraces and barren non-arable lands in towns and fringe rural areas each accommodating 10 to 100kW plants. SMEs can therefore get into power generation business. The ministry of SME should seriously use this opportunity to ensure that SMEs benefit from this as much as big corporate enterprises.

Is it Unfair Policy for Small Enterprises?
Finally the government should not forget that one can challenge the current policy of buying power only from big solar plants in which only large corporations can invest money.

Suppose in a remote village local people invest and develop power with a 20kW plant to provide power to 50 to 100 hamlets, how can they be denied subsidies at the same rate that a big corporation gets for producing over one megawatt power.

No court will allow the government to discriminate in such a high-handed manner. In fact, such a village that invests in their own power plant needs to be encouraged since the state has been unable to invest and feed power to that village. Before the matter reaches that legal tangle, it is better that the government looks at its subsidy policy and ensures that there is justice for all.


-- P. S. Deodhar, ex-chairman, Electronics Commission, Govt of India and advisor to Rajiv Gandhi



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