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Let solar shine

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Dec 15, 2012 | From the print edition

Census 2011 throws light on the darkness across India. Of the 246 million households, 67 per cent get electricity from the grid, while 31 per cent have no option but to use kerosene lamps. In 2001, government initiated a nationwide programme to provide off-grid, clean alternatives, mostly solar, in remote areas. Solar has now lit up more than a million homes —a 100 per cent increase since 2001—though the programme has its share of loopholes. This situation presents both challenges and opportunities. The answer to the country’s energy poverty could lie in decentralised solar.

Joel Kumar, who assessed the programme’s performance, says the case for off-grid solar is clear and urgent. Ankur Paliwal carries out a reality check in Uttarakhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and Sayantan Bera in Assam

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Even 65 years after Independence, more than a million families in India live in darkness after sunset. Neither the electricity grid reaches them nor do they have the money to invest in alternative sources of energy. A much larger section of the population, nearly half the rural India, connected to the grid suffers from erratic supply. They depend on kerosene to address their power needs. But kerosene is heavily subsidised and there are huge leakages in the system.

To eliminate the dependency on kerosene, over a decade ago the government started a programme to offer off-grid solutions at subsidised prices. Under the Remote Village Electrification Programme (RVEP), the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) offers a solar home lighting system (SHS).

Source: Census of India, 2011

It is a simple kit consisting of one or two CFLs, a solar panel, a battery and a solar charge regulator. For many, SHS was godsend. It saved them the expenditure on kerosene to get four-five hours of electricity a day. The programme has by now covered nearly 9,000 villages against a target of 18,000 and encountered a number of problems. The biggest is poor aftersale service, followed by malfunctioning batteries and CFLs. The Centre cannot monitor everything, defends the ministry. “We rely on state renewable energy agencies to ensure proper functioning of the programme,” says Gireesh Pradhan, secretary of MNRE.

Source: Census of India

The solar initiative is not restricted to the government. NGOs and private institutions are also offering expensive lighting options and financial help. For instance, Aryavart Grameen bank in Uttar Pradesh has provided loans for home lights to 50,000 families; the Exhibition Road in Patna is touted as the world’s largest market for solar equipment; and SELCO (Solar Electric Lighting Company) in Karnataka is the energy solutions provider for 135,000 rural families.

The government has provided solar electricity in 9,000 villages against a target of 18,000

The entry of non-government players signifies scope for growth in the off-grid solar sector. At a price tag ranging from Rs 8,000 to Rs 13,500, SHS sounds expensive, but this is just one-time investment. A family using kerosene lamps spends Rs 250 every month, whereas an SHS lasts at least 10 years. This means even an expensive system costs a little more than Rs 100 a month.

Such models offer hope for the country’s power woes but are limited in their reach, while RVEP is seen only as a stop-gap arrangement till the grid reaches remote areas. It does not have to be so; mini-grid solar can show the light. This is the opportunity for the future.

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Excellent article on Solar Power in India with special reference to rural areas.
Many programs / pilots have failed despite huge investments due to the lack of quality assurance and
monitoring and/or the lack of adequate planning to set-up an efficient after-sales network. The success
of consumer financing efforts depends heavily on product performance. Channeling poor quality
products or failing to service a faulty product during the financing term is a significant credit risk borne by the financial institutions
In addition to usage amongst the lower-income households, solar lanterns are used extensively for portable applications by certain professions such as fishermen, silk farmers, and night security guards. Their demand is also driven by the need to work early in the morning and/or late in the evening, coupled with the benefits of brighter and safer light that solar lanterns provide. These lanterns can perform only one or two basic functions such as acting as a task light and/or as a solar torch/flashlight.
There are Multi-functional solar lanterns:
This product’s distinguishing characteristic is that it comes with more functionality than the basic solar
lantern. These features include outlets for mobile phone charging, radio charging and charging through dual modes – solar and AC points. Some lanterns in the market even come with built-in radios. While all income levels find these products more useful than basic solar lanterns, many cannot afford them.

LED’s (Light Emitting Diodes): LED’s are characterized by their low power requirements
CFL’s (Compact Fluorescent Lamps): CFL’s use much less power compared to traditional
incandescent lamps but considerably more power when compared to LED
Batteries
Batteries can be of the following 3 types:
Lead-acid batteries: These are the oldest type of rechargeable batteries and are typically used
in SHS
Lithium-ion batteries: These batteries have seen more application in portable products as they
have one of the best energy densities
NiMH batteries: Nickel-Metal Hydride cells have a high energy density but a high selfdischarge rate, which leads to lower battery life.

Often the quality of the batteries in the SHS is of poor quality to meet the cost reduction. Battery is the heart of the SHS.
With frequent power cuts especially in villages the children face difficulty for reading. In some villages people still use Kerosene lights.

One area which needs promotion on a massive scale is Reading Light/Study light SOLAR Powered, LED-based.
Various models with varying number of LEDs are available. One typical light model is:
LED Wattage : 0.20 Watts Battery : 1.2×2-1200mA NiMH
Solar Panel : 0.5Wp - 6 volts mostly ABS Plastic body or Aluminum
The advantages:

1.Eliminates the use of dangerous kerosene lamps by children for studying.
2.Protects children from the toxic fumes of kerosene lamps.
3.Is a light weight, portable, easy to use solar based LED light.
4.STUDY LIGHT's goose neck design enables positioning of the light as per the child's requirement both
inside or outside homes.
Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

3 December 2012
Posted by
Dr.A.Jagadeesh

Thank you for your comments Dr. Jagdeesh. It is quite true when you say that "the success
of consumer financing efforts depends heavily on product performance. Channeling poor quality
products or failing to service a faulty product during the financing term is a significant credit risk borne by the financial institutions." This was observed in Uttar Pradesh where there were many defaulters with the RRB present there.

However, I would like to add to your point on the poor quality of batteries. At least partly. Many of these households have found their way to abuse the batteries excessively. For eg., in Uttarakhand, most of these hoseuholds have fitted televisions sets or radio or large speakers to their batteries. First, the charge controllers give up. The batteries are still usable at this stage but by directly connecting the solar panels to the battery. Without charge controller, the batteries get into deep discharge mode quite often. This completely ruins the battery. The households need to be educated about the over loading of batteries which they are actually not aware of unless there are technicians or other technical people nearby which is a rarity.

Secondly, the implementing agencies get the necessary supplies (including batteries) say for a project sanctioned in February 2012. It takes them more than a year in many cases before they actually deliver the equipment to the concerned households. This also, reduces the life of the batteries.

5 December 2012
Posted by
joelkumar

Congratulations to the authors to brought out the real situation of the POWER (DTE, 15th Dec. 2012) and giving the option of SOLAR sources under Let solar shine. It is the fact and stakeholders should accept this.

Knowing this, the need of the hour is to concentrate on the developmental research for the better utility of SOLAR and thus minimize the extraction of natural resources with acceptable impact on the wealth & heath of the People & Environment.

The whole process of power in common man terms covers several stages like: Generation, Storage, Transmission, Distribution and utilization with monitoring & evaluation at each and every stage.

Though a good beginning has been made in utilizing the SOLAR POWER, still lot of work has to be done to make it as more acceptable for the users / stakeholders.

Some of the suggestions made in this direction includes:

£ Better awareness among the stakeholders for understanding the reality and to move for alternatives covering

£ More seminars / workshops / trainings to the stakeholders for better sharing, dissemination and understanding

£ Efficient and durable solar panel and batteries for both generation and storage.

£ Cost effectiveness for better motivation

£ Support for required research at national and other Research Institutes

£ Matching support from the Government and other agencies for transfer of technology from LAB to LAND

£ As a model, installation of SOLAR Units at all the Government and Public Utility Centers.

Certainty, such effective measures will help us to utilize the Solar Power to the maximum extent so that INDIA can move from DARKER DAYS to BRIGHTER DAYS with sustainable solutions.

3 December 2012
Posted by
Lakshmi Narayana Nagisetty

An excellent and well timed article on solar power. It is awell known fact that the known reserves of fossil fuels are getting depleted at an exponential rate. What took millions of years to form has been used up within a span of 100years. It is time we thought seriously about renewable sources of energy and in this regard solar energy is having vast potential.Experts in the field of energy says that we recieve roughly 1KW of solar energy for every square metre,but the conversion efficicy of the present day equipments are hardly 18-22% that is one reason for the unit cost being very high. If it is possible to improve the conversion efficiency, the unit cost can be brought down.The main flaw in the rural solar electrification programme is that the plans are devised by beauraucrats sitting in the office, who have little knowledge about ground realities,we should apply "quality function deployment" techniques here also, so that the "voice of the customer"is also taken care of.

5 December 2012
Posted by
Prof.P.P.Premachandran

Prof Premchandran, many of the stakeholders that we have spoken to while going on about our research complained of the same thing - that the implementers and stakeholders at the ground level are not being invited to attend these policy level meetings. Even if they are invited, it is only a week or so in advance and the stakeholders cannot schedule anything in such a short time. Hopefully, the report that CSE has published recently, would bridge this gap:

You would find it under the Renewable Energy section under Books in the CSE Store. The book is titled, "Going Remote: Re-inventing the off-grid solar energy revolution for clean energy for all".

5 December 2012
Posted by
joelkumar

There is much wastage of energy through cooling. The tragedy in India is we first heat the buildings and then cool it through Fans/Air Conditioners.
• Environmentally Friendly - Conventional Air Conditioners and refrigerators use a lot of electricity, or in the case of absorption cooling system, gas or some other combustible liquid. Reducing the consumption of these Energy sources, means less greenhouse gas production. Also non CFC based functioning of SACS makes it eco-friendly by preventing depletion of Ozone layer.
• Flexibility - By using heat exchangers, and in particular heat pipe style heat exchangers, liquids (e.g. refrigeration fluid) can be heated to high temperatures.
• Economic Saving - Reduce electricity bills by using Solar Energy to run Air Conditioners, refrigerators and Freezers, provide central heating (Radiative or Air), Cool water for drinking and supply hot water.
• Suits Large Scale Applications - Solar powered Air-Conditioning and refrigeration is ideal for hotels, supermarkets, schools, factories, and large office premises etc.
• Practical - When do you need Air-Conditioning? Summer. When is the sun shining the strongest? Summer. Throughout the year, solar thermal output and thus Air Conditioning output, match building cooling requirements.
In India Solar Manufacturers should design alternative power(Solar) gadgets like Solar Refrigerators,Solar Air conditioners etc. Now that the Solar Cell Efficiency is going up, it is time to use this abundant energy to save conventional power. China has already Commercial Air Conditioning Systems. We in India should not always be imitators but should be innovators in Renewable Energy Systems like Solar,Wind etc.

There is the Eastgate Centre in Harare,Zimbabwe which has natural cooling and ventilation.
The Eastgate Centre is a shopping centre and office block in central Harare,Zimbabwe whose architect is Mick Pearce. Designed to be ventilated and cooled by entirely natural means, it was probably the first building in the world to use natural cooling to this level of sophistication. It opened in 1996 on Robert Mugabe Avenue and Second Street, and provides 5,600 m² of retail space, 26,000 m² of office space and parking for 450 cars.
The Eastgate Centre's design is a deliberate move away from the "big glass block". Glass office blocks are typically expensive to maintain at a comfortable temperature, needing substantial heating in the winter and cooling in the summer. They tend to recycle air, in an attempt to keep the expensively conditioned atmosphere inside, leading to high levels of air pollution in the building. Artificial air-conditioning systems are high-maintenance, and Zimbabwe has the additional problem that the original system and most spare parts have to be imported, squandering foreign exchange reserves.
Mick Pearce, the architect, therefore took an alternative approach. Because of its altitude, Harare has a temperate climate despite being in the tropics, and the typical daily temperature swing is 10 or 14 °C. This makes a mechanical or passive cooling system a viable alternative to artificial air-conditioning.

Here are views of Dr.Harish Hande which are pertinent:
It’s interesting that the rich in the states without power are complaining the most, about how they are suffering because of no air conditioners, etcetera. Yet 400 million Indians today still have not seen a light bulb while 200 million more regularly suffer from regular brownouts (between 6 and 19 hours).
The massive grid breakdown in India should not come as a surprise at all. The surprise part is why it did not happen before. It has been a ticking time bomb. Coal and nuclear will not solve the issue. Energy inefficiency, creaking infrastructure (increasing transmission and distribution losses), lowering of water tables and electricity theft all have to be taken care of at once. Increased urbanization is caused mostly by rural migrants. Proper planning of new urban houses is essential and also a great opportunity. For example, such housing could be designed for better day lighting (and easily could be designed in combination with renewables like solar from day one).
In Delhi, having modern buildings with glass facades that trap heat (increasing the need for heavy air conditioners) just does not make sense. Modern buildings have been designed with scant respect for the local environment and have been built for outward show.
In the name of satisfying voters, huge subsidies for electricity for agricultural water pumping have led to to rapid depletion of groundwater, thus leading to the need for more powerful water pumps, and thus the need for more electricity — a vicious cycle.
It is time for India and Indians (especially the rich ones) to reflect and not just complain. Mere complaining will not solve this problem. The problem is here to stay — and coal and nuclear will not solve it. They will just hide the problem under the carpet for sometime. Renewable energy options and decentralization will help foster discipline — demand-side power management, energy efficiency, accountability and a sense of ownership — things that the centralized grid can never provide.
India should see this power outage as a opportunity — but sadly the debate is going the other way — as if pumping in more power will solve the underlying problems. Pragmatic solutions will give way to politics. The climate change problem and solutions will be set aside. Hopefully, the 400 million Indians who do not have electricity today (because they never had!) will show the rest of India how to behave in the future(Behind India’s Grid Breakdown, Deeper Energy Issues – and Opportunities,Dot Earth, July 31, 2012)

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

5 December 2012
Posted by
Dr.A.Jagadeesh

As a follow up to this story, I'd like to see a similar investigation on solar cooking - it's again a no-brainer, as it stops deforestation, and stops women from having to scavenge for wood or other combustible things to burn.

Has India used its ample sunshine to feed itself? Has the government failed at this too?

6 December 2012
Posted by
Sriram S

Solar Cookers(Box Type) in India is a story of HIGH PROMISE AND LOW PERFORMANCE.

Solar Cookers(Mostly Box Type) were promoted in India. These suffer from many drawbacks:

1. open cooking,Many Hindus does not want to cook in open.
2. There is no provision for frying. In South India no meal is served without fried curries. The
Box Type Solar Cooker is useful for boiling only like dal,rice etc., One can't use two systems one for boiling and the other for frying.

As per MNRE statistics the solar cookers in the country are 6.39 lakhs(as on 31-1-2011).

Why Solar Cookers are not popular despite subsidies by the Government?

Parabolic cookers need to be oriented towards the SUN.

There is geodesic Prometheus solar cooker which is very efficient and cost effective too.

Solar Energy Limited, UK, promotes Prometheus solar cookers. Dominic Michaelis is the inventor. The cookers are made of waterproof cardboard sandwiched between two layers of polyester film, one of which is reflective. Though the functionality of the Prometheus is similar to parabolic-type solar cookers, the geodesic construction is unique, earning the European Carton Makers Association (ECMA) Innovation Award in 2000. The cooker reaches temperatures of 200 degrees C, and is capable of boiling 5 liters of water in under 20 minutes. Tests have shown that the Prometheus is also capable of medical sterilization with a special pressure cooker. Contact: Dominic Michaelis, Solar Energy Limited, 11 Highlever Rd, London, W10 6PP, United Kingdom. Tel: +44 (0)7968 988 327, E-mail: Dominic.Michaelis@wanadoo.fr.

I tested the cooker I and found it is very efficient. The advantage of this cooker compared to parabolic one is that the geodesic focuses towards the sun without constant changing it. On the other hand the small dimon shape whole will help from the shade to know whether the solar cooker is facing the sun or not.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

7 December 2012
Posted by
DR.A.Jagadeesh

Analysis of Solar Cookers:
Solar Box cookers are insulated boxes that capture the energy that shines into it. The
glass top creates a kind of greenhouse effect in the box. One or more mirrors
are attached to the sides of the box to allow more sunlight to enter through the
glass top. Depending on the design and the temperature of the surrounding air,
temperatures of over 100 °C can be reached. Box cookers exploit both direct
and diffuse solar radiation. Therefore, they do not need to be positioned facing
the sun frequently.
The box type solar cooker doesn't reach very high temperatures (no frying or
roasting is possible) and should remain closed during cooking, which makes
stirring or adding of ingredients impossible. Therefore, the solar box cooker
can be used to prepare for example rice or lentils over a time period of a few
hours during the day when the user is out at work. When the user returns the
food will be ready.
Experiences from solar cooker projects:
Many early programmes with solar cookers failed, which resulted in a polarisation of the opinions on solar cookers. Some people regard it as an inappropriate technology, while others are still confident in the success of solar cooking. Projects have failed for example because the solar cooker is not able to prepare food for large families, because cooking and eating times are too different or because cooking times are considered too slow.
It is sometimes said that the use of solar cookers saves carbon dioxide emissions, which cause the
greenhouse effect. However, this is not always the case. Cooking on firewood is CO2-neutral, meaning the CO2 emissions do not contribute to the greenhouse effect, given the firewood is collected in a sustainable manner. Only in case the solar cooker saves the use of fossil fuels (or unsustainably collected firewood) there is a saving in CO2 emissions. It is difficult to determine whether firewood was collected sustainably or not.
Many projects in the past have failed, or were only partially successful. However, the difficulties with
suitability of solar cookers to local cooking needs are not impossible to overcome. The users and local
cooking needs need special attention in any solar cooking project. Though this is a time-consuming
process, it can be considered a requirement for success. Marketing and dissemination are important issues,traditional cooking customs are very resistant to change, people will cook on firewood until absolutely no wood is available any more. Also, it is important to recognise that solar cookers are a complementary technology and not a substitute for the traditional household’s cooking fuel.

One use of Box Type Solar Cooker is to put bottles with water(potable) and take it out when it reaches high temperature and use it in cooking as pre-heated water. This way one can use gas,electric,kerosene etc. but still can save considerable energy.

One pertinent point that strikes me. In Innovation Theory there are Two Approches: Technology Push and Demand Pull. Gadgets like Box Type Solar Cooker fall under the First Category. It is irony that millions of bicycles are used which costs double that of a Solar Cooker(Box Type) while Solar Cooker usage is almost negligible in a populous country like India. Bicycle is the most clean energy transport and is reliable. I still have a bicycle which is 45 years old!
Any Gadget more so that deals with usage in rural areas should serve some purpose. Often Governments think mere subsidy will help the usage of some systems. Past experience has proved that it is reliability and multiple uses that determine the success or failure of a system.
Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
E-mail: Anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

8 December 2012
Posted by
Dr.A.Jagadeesh

The quantities of coal, oil and natural gas are decreasing and in a nearby future, they won’t be available for man for producing electricity. In major cities around the world, people are nowadays saying farewell to these kinds of fossil fuels and turning to renewable sources of energy. Rubbish and other kinds of waste are the best among those sources which can be used for this purpose. Wastetricity is becoming more and more an accepted form of energy to replace electricity. Rubbish accumulated through years in a city are now lying in heaps serving as mere landfills, constantly producing harmful greenhouse gases and obnoxious smell, wasting valuable real estate. Normally this rubbish will decompose at a slower rate but by adding chemicals, its decomposing can be speeded up. By adding oxygen, decaying rubbish can be made to produce carbon dioxide and methane which can be pipe-transported to conversion plants to produce electricity. In nearby future, all metropolises in the world will have to observe stringent world regulations to keep greenhouse gases under control and turning rubbish into electricity will be the only viable option before them. South America and India are already pioneers in the field of marketing carbon content derived from rubbish. Both city waste and industrial waste can be made good use of for producing electricity. Incinerating municipal waste in itself is a waste and dangerous. Incineration does not eliminate gas emission during burning of rubbish. It also destroys precious raw material for electricity. Therefore incineration is a foolish and costly measure adopted by unwise municipal administrations in haste, to escape from the public accusation of doing nothing for disposal of municipal waste. Waste consisting of carbon content such as plastic, paper and food leftover are churned inside plasma gasification chambers at 6000°C to produce gas. Vitrified slag would be the residue which is in demand at road construction sites. This gas can be directly piped to internal combustion engines to produce electricity with the dual benefits of availability of electricity at unbelievably low prices and the height of the Rubbish Mountains coming lower each day. The modern method is to replace internal combustion engines with alkaline fuel cells to increase output by an unbelievable sixty percent. Since these kinds of electrical plants can be constructed at rubbish-disposing sites, there would be no need to find new places to locate the plants. World seminars on eco preservation have put forward many regulations on waste disposal as well as on electricity production. By 2030, half of the electricity produced in every country will have to be from renewable sources. Besides, no country in the world will be allowed to keep Rubbish Mountains in their cities, freely releasing greenhouse gases to the atmosphere which is everyone’s property. Turning rubbish to electricity will be the only option then. Why not start a little early?

7 December 2012

In many cities in India like Bangalore, electrical connection is provided to houses, apartments and commercial buildings on the condition that solar energy also shall be used as and when appropriate. Water heaters are essentially to be solar devises. Chennai also is giving much importance to solar power devices. In a building, there can be many private rooms which can use electricity from the grid but common rooms like sit-outs, porticoes and dining rooms must essentially use solar power. That is the condition on which new electricity connections are nowadays being given. Solar panels placed on roofs are becoming standard in many Indian cities. But solar power is suitable for light devices only and cannot be depended on for industrial productions which need continuous electricity flow at undiminished, un-fluctuating strength and voltage. Solar power can be used only for lighting bulbs, powering water heaters, lighting up basements and car sheds, etc, but cannot be used for running kitchen grinders, water pumps, ventilation fans or air conditioners. Solar cells would provide power only during shiny days, and during clouded and rainy days, people will have to switch entirely to electrical power. Moreover, almost all Indian states have continuously blowing dusty winds and the dust settling on Photo Voltaic Panels would make the solar power source ineffective in no time. In the present circumstances they can only supplement electrical power but cannot substitute it. Solar panels are also costly as they are now being imported from foreign countries. Manufacture of Poly Vinyl Carbonate used for assembling solar panels needs generation and accumulation of the toxic waste Silicon Tetra Fluoride which many countries in the world are reluctant to allow produced in their countries for the reason that it will eventually reach water streams and kill people, taking its time. Countries with loose environmental and ecological regulations alone are now in a position to manufacture Poly Vinyl Carbonate in a massive scale. China is such a country which puts more weight on massive gross production and revenue from export than on caring for people’s health and safety. Consequently China is the country where PVC is available at the cheapest rates and almost all solar panels used in India arrives from China. The more solar power is planned to be tapped in a country to replace hydro-electric and nuclear power, the more use of solar panels will be necessitated. Since more and more countries are becoming acutely conscious of toxic industrial pollutants creating health hazards among their people, they will only turn to banning production Silicon Tetra Fluoride. Availability of STF and therefore that of PVC is evidently unsure of in the future. Even non-caring countries like China will have to go forward in environmental policies. Unfortunately, the scientific world has not yet come up with something to substitute Silicon Tetra Fluoride in solar panel production.

7 December 2012

With the vast amount of the country receiving goo sunshine. Hence, solar is indeed a viable option to provide electricity to those villages where the options for lighting is very much limited. But for that there must be a good initiative from the part of the government.

7 October 2013
Posted by
delvin

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