India's solar energy generator story and how you could generate your own off-grid energy soon

Here is a brief look at India's Solar Energy story. Solar home systems today can offer backup power, but in the near future generating all your power needs may become cheaper through off-grid setups. The Indian government and private players have launched interesting schemes to make this happen.

In a bid to be more environmentally responsible and cut down on greenhouse emissions, businesses and institutions around the world are doing everything possible. From using AI to cut down energy use by 15% to solar powering Marine gear and personal water supplies, the innovations are mind-blowing.

In India the central and state governments have been proactive since 2010 in in setting up solar powered plants, albeit connected to the grid. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) formed in 2010 is at the helm of this initiative. In fact since 2010, we have achieved at least on paper, the installation of nearly twice the number of plants as compared to world leaders China and Germany. The Indian government has ambitions to achieve 40GW of rooftop solar by 2022 as part of the total solar goal of 100,000 MW by that year.

The obstacles

Of course there are ground realities that often get in the way of solar projects. The availability of land is one such problem. Generating 1 MW of electricity requires 5 acres of land, and land available is often fragmented. Farmers are unwilling or ask for higher prices that send plant setup costs skyrocketing. Other project bottlenecks are caused by regulations and red tape. Distribution is another problem. India's debt-ridden power companies are unwilling to buy power from solar plants. Sixty percent of the country's power is still dependent on coal, and we import a lot of it along with oil and gas.

On-Grid solar success stories

Having said that there are lots of success stories, from around the country, to bridge the gap between plans and ground realities. Large solar parks like the 590 MW Charanka Solar Park in Gujarat comes with land and government authorization. All that companies who want to set up solar projects have to do is pay a fee.

Grid-connected rooftop solar of 14.8 MW capacity has already been set up as a part of a 19 MW large scale grid-connected pilot project by SECI (Solar Energy Corporation of India, Ltd. The $625 million aid from the World Bank will help bring the government's goals to fruition. Rooftop solar set up at railway stations, hospitals, schools, bus stations, storehouses etc. will not only generate own electricity loads but also inject surplus power back to the grid. In eastern India, companies like SunCraft Energy Pvt. Ltd. have set up grid-connected rooftop plants at 42 schools in West Bengal.

Solar power tariffs, buoyed by subsidies and low costs of equipment have also been reported to be down to an impressive INR 5 per kWh.

Off-Grid Solar

Off-grid solar probably has more scope for impact. In remote parts of the country where the infrastructure for the grid is not available, off-grid PVC (photovoltaic cells, or solar panels) are one of the few solutions. In the northeast states, widespread implementation of solar power plants has already been successful. Manipur's Manireda for instance has up to 25 kWp rooftop installations on hospitals in place.

Low-cost solar lanterns are being developed and 400 solar street lights were set up in 44 villages in Deoghar, Jharkand under the leadership of Def Mart. At the village community level, micro-grids are also used as small-scale versions of centralized electrical systems in remote areas.

NABARD's (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) countrywide government sponsored solar water pumping program for irrigation also has small and medium sized solar energy players receiving subsidies to help with efficient irrigation.

Wind power company Suzlon is working on a hybrid workaround that offsets the lack of space for continuous solar panel setups. Suzlon has devised a combination of wind turbines and solar panels in the spaces between the turbines to complement each other. The solar panels will generate power in the day and the wind turbines will do so in the evening, when wind is easier to harness.

The future of off-grid solar power generation

India's off-grid success stories are not yet in the scale of on-grid installations, though there is a huge market for it. An estimated 240 million people do not have access to electricity in India. For them, projects like the 'Simpa Networks' pay-as-you-go off-grid project funded partly by the Asian Development Bank is a viable solution. It allows people in rural areas to buy energy in small packages via SMS. A solar home system costing about $200 to $400 is installed in a home at only 10 to 20% of the cost. Users can then buy energy from this system in small amounts as low as INR 50. In such small amounts, the cost of purchase is paid off in full, and then the system is unlocked for use without any further charges.

Solar Home Systems have huge potential for not just rural homes but urban homes as well. SHS systems typically come with solar panels, batteries and plug-in appliances and lights. They are of three types. Basic SHS produce less than 10 W of power in uses such as Schneider Electric's In-Diya plug and play. In-Diya can light up a 12 X 12 foot area and run on mains or solar with a 12V 10Wp Solar panel and 12V, 5Ah battery. It provides 8 hours of backup.

Standard SHS like Tata's Venus solar home lighting systems can provide between 10 to 150 W of power. It is available to buy on Snapdeal and is popularly used in shops, stores, kitchens and as emergency lighting in areas with erratic power supply. These systems usually have multiple detachable lights and may also let you charge your mobile and run fans.

The usual advanced SHS offer higher wattage, come with warranties of around 5 years, and can run as many as one TV, six ceiling fans and 22 CFL lightbulbs. These systems can also offer grid connectivity and AC connections.

As of now, the demand for off-grid solar home systems is largest in the 40W to 60W category. Advanced home systems are sold to higher income homes, where they are used as backups.

One of the challenges of off-grid SHS and residential rooftop solar is storage. The cost of the battery is 15% of the retail cost, while PV makes up 50%. At present lead acid batteries are used, as they are reasonably low cost and perform well. Newer technologies in storage systems with inverter for AC connections or charge controllers and ideally high-performance Lithium batteries can potentially change how we generate electricity for homes. For a new age of DIYers and environment conscious yuppies, generating own power can be a very attarctive alternative to relying on the grid, especially in areas plagued with power cuts.

There are three possible ways the utility distribution could happen in the future.
  • People may use solar power during the day and draw from the grid at night
  • They may use a storage battery to store solar energy generated during the day, and use it at night while staying connected to the grid for emergencies
  • They may choose to go off the grid. This could be an attractive option, because there would be no fixed-grid charges

Powerful lithium batteries that can run solar home systems exist, but they are expensive enough to deter consumers even in the west. In a bid to reduce costs, US electric car maker Tesla is already trying to mass-manufacture these batteries at its ambitious Gigafactory premises in Nevada. By 2020, Tesla hopes to build storage batteries at the cost of $100 per KWh. The cost is already down to $150 from the $1200 it was in 2010.

The Gigafactory is expected to have a phenomenal impact on the solar energy market and it may not be long before Indian players manufacture their own. That is, provided the market for clean and abundant solar energy continues to be enthusiastic.

Article by Juana
Juana is a freelance writer, with years of experience, creating content for varied online portals. She holds a degree in English Literature and has worked as a teacher and as a soft skill trainer. An avid reader, she writes on a variety of topics ranging from health, travel, education and personality development.

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Author: Kailash Kumar02 Sep 2016 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 2

There are many initiatives which are being taken in this direction e.g. recently Pune has made installation of solar water heaters in new buildings mandatory. Bengaluru was the first city in India to take such an initiative. They are providing a rebate of Rs. 50 in electricity bills of residents who are using roof-top thermal systems.
Solar lanterns and home lighting systems are being encouraged. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Government of India is offering a subsidy of up to 30% to 40% on the cost of lanterns, home lights and small systems up to 210 W.
As the solar power can be generated only during the non-monsoon period in daytime, hybrid solar plants are being encouraged e.g. as complementary to the wind power. Such solar power plants can be installed in the inter-space between the towers of wind power plants or nearby areas thus economising on the challenge of land availability. Solar plants can also be made complementary to the hydroelectricity plants which generally operate at its peak during the monsoon period.

Author: Juana01 Oct 2017 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 5

The Government provides subsidies for the installation of solar powered energy units. It is a good initiative, but not without problems. Maintenance of these units is high and AMCs can cost a lot of money.

My experience with the same is as follows –
1. Cyclone Vardha blew away the Solar Heater panels that were installed on the terraces in towers in my apartment complex. They were used to provide us solar heated water. We are now disposing them, because they have been rendered useless. Even strong winds would shift the panels and cease the hot water supply.
2. One of the streets was lined with solar powered street lights. The batteries were stolen.

Though I am all for tapping of solar energy, the solar panels and batteries require proper installation and maintenance. Their upkeep is a costly affair.

Author: Venkiteswaran27 Jun 2018 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 7

I would add my personal level of experience. I am using solar energy in a very small way at home. I can say that I am disappointed. I had installed solar lighting in my house for lighting the pathway -from the gate to the building. It was when I started installing that I found there is a lot of gap and loose ends between promise and performance. There are various limitations as to the placing of panels, direction, length of wire from the panel to lamp etc. As there was a building near my home blocking the morning Sun for a few hours, the panel was not charging sufficiently. Then I had to add one more panel. But during rains, the charging was not sufficient as there was not enough sunlight. Then, after the guarantee period was over, the LEDs started becoming dysfunctional. Replacement is not available locally. The firm which originally supplied and installed is not available now.

To cut short, the two solar lights I installed are now lying unused and useless.

After gathering some knowledge, just a few days ago, I bought a bulb(solar light bulb) online. Now I have to get a suitable technician to do something.

So my opinion is that solar energy, as of now, is not at all worth return for money as capital cost is much, much more than the conventional methods, is not popular and hence after sales service is almost nil. It has many limitations and is not suited to places where there are more rains.

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