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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Adopting Solar Energy

Few months ago, when Mohan’s blog had featured a few guest posts about Solar energy, I’d got news that our home in Udupi has adopted couple of solar powered lamps and a fan, at an investment close to 25k, which was expensive from all practical angles.

Solar-power-lamps Soolar-lamp

I got a chance to see them only during my recent visit to Udupi. This post shares a few photos and the way forward for solar energy as alternative source of energy.

The set up for solar energy is pretty simple. A panel, fixed on top of roof and exposed to sun will capture the light and generate electricity out of it. This electricity is then passed to a battery where it is stored. Electrical devices draw power from this battery and work from it. Unfortunately since solar power is Direct Current, most of our regular house hold appliances designed for Alternate Current can’t be used directly.

Benefits:

  • Clean energy
  • Savings in Electricity bill
  • Basic lighting even when there’s power cut

solar-panel solar-power-battery

The set up looks pretty simple and once implemented, it would power your house forever, with almost zero maintenance of other expenses, however, following challenges are preventing a widespread adoption of solar energy.

The 4 lamps and one fan set up did cost us close to 23k (after some 10% subsidy from govt). These devices can be used approximately 3-4 hours per day.

Disadvantages:

At 26k, this is almost unaffordably expensive for many house holds. The equipments do not seem to cost much (an equivalent set of conventional 4 lights and a table fan can be bought for one tenth of that price) but the price is high due to low volume, logistics and other factors.

All these devices run on DC (direct current), so most of the devices meant to run on AC can’t be run using solar energy. Simple devices like mobiles operate on DC, but their chargers would have built in adapters that expect input current to be AC and then convert into DC. This also means separate wiring in the house to connect solar powered fans and lights that run on DC.

Solar-fanEfficiency is still not enough: Current set up runs for 3-4 hours-which is enough for rural house holds which need power only from evening till night. City homes which may need power all night will find them inadequate. One way is to install more solar panels, which would directly add to cost. It is possible to power more power savvy devices from solar energy, unless the cost comes down or efficiency increases, they don’t make any practical sense at this point.

Adopting solar power will need additional wiring all over the home. Maintenance is said to be nill, but solar panel needs periodic cleaning and lights and fans and other devices are subject to electro/mechanical failures which may need repair/replacement.

The way forward:

I believe cost is the single most parameter which is holding people from adopting to solar technology aggressively. With increasing power cuts, increasing utility bills, I hope more and more people will venture out to invest in solar energy  in near future. As volume grows the prices are sure to come down to more sensible levels (Just to give a comparison- LPG gas powered water heaters were costing close to 8k when they were initially introduced. Today they cost less than 2k)

What can be done to bring the cost down?

  • Industrial houses should go for solar power more aggressively. Since they pay commercial rates, their savings will be much higher.
  • Employee unions and residential associations of apartments can see if they can place bulk orders. If 100s of families in a complex are adopting Solar Energy, vendor is sure to give significant discounts.
  • While approving large industries/residential complexes, Govt can consider enforcing a mandate that at least 10% of electricity requirement should be sourced from clean energy.
  • While constructing new homes, give provision for solar power. This will save additional wiring later.
  • Manufacturers of electrical equipments should give provision to run/charge the device from DC

Share your thoughts on this.

18 comments :

Mohan said...

A widespread adoption of solar products will result in bulk orders, which in turn brings down the end product cost. You have rightly pointed it out. 4hrs of solar energy utilization can go a long way given the unscheduled power cuts and ever increasing demand for electricity.

Nalini Hebbar said...

sounds good since the inverter draws on electricity for which we have to pay...so it's initial cost, 15,000
+ about 5-600 in the bill/month
but the solar alternative is a 23K onetime investment...sounds really good
has he created solar pumps yet...I am interested in these products for my farm house...do send me the contact

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Mohan,

Agree. I'm sure over a period of time people will adopt it, just wishing it to happen faster...

Nalini

Well, sounds like a sensible investment, but pls be informed that Solar Energy is not yet a complete replacement for Electricity Board. At 23k we get only 4 normal lamps (shown in pic) and a fan which runs for 3-4 hours a day. If we've to to run entire house (let us say one each of TV, AC, refrigerator, grinder, pump etc) then cost will be enormous.

I am hoping cost will come down fast

Trails of a Traveler said...

Well thought out. Though the initial cost is quite high, I would still go for it if the efficiency is good or if it can provide 24/7 power.

Apart from government enforcing industrial complexes to go for solar power, even residential builders can be asked to provide solar power for their new ventures. I am sure in city like chennai where there is no dearth for solar energy, this should really be a good option.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

A useful comment by Satish karanth through buzz:

"Separate wiring can be avoided I feel by connecting the battery to the mains (like they connect invertor which also runs on battery).The lamps to be used on solar can only be changed to CFL or LED( which is the latest in luminaires crompton makes them).

when you are using battery there is cost of battery replacement after ceratin cycles of charge /discharge.Check this with battery manufacturers.SMF batteries are better."

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Ram,

Yes, it is a good alternative for Chennai, also to most of the Indian cities for that matter

satish said...

Solar energy is a good source & viable alternative to reduce global warming.NDTV conducted a good initiative called Greenathon where contributions were received from allover the world for providing solar lights to remote villages which do not have supply of electricity yet.

Use of solar water heater is a very good solution to reduce use of scarce electricity.Use of electricity for heating must be avoided as far as possible as it is a very inefficient process where lot of energy is wasted.All such inefficient processes should use solar energy which is available abundantly in most part of India.

Use of Solar powered lights is good option for rural areas where availability of continuous power is an issue due to frequent load shedding & other problems.First costs are still high but where electricity is not available as & when required people should consider use of solar energy which will serve larger interest of society ie global warming by reducing CO2 emission due to reduced usage of fossil fuels.

sasi.hebbar said...

Low voltage bulbs can be used to light more lights, at a lower capacity battery; one of our friends used only five bulbs for his house and total cost tuned upto 7k. Solar energy is to be harvested more vigourously in tropical countries like India, where almost all the months of year get Sun rays. The research in this area should be towards reducing the cost of solar panels.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Satish and Hebbar sir for detailed comments and insights.

Solar water heaters are now used by many households, still a lot of them use LPG/Electricity...

Thanks for tip of on usage of low wattage bulbs

Rony Daniel said...

How about using solar power on a hot summer day for AC or fans as most of the time in day time there will be unsheduled power cuts and also there is no need to have a battery as the power generation and consumption will happen together.

vijay said...

Hi.. I am making my home of 3 BHk in the outskrits of Banhalore. Please guide as to how to go about understanding my solar requirements. which kind of panels should i go for, and what kind of invertors or batteries i need to go for. would appreciate if you could guide me on this regard and email me at vijay.yvcs@gmail.com

Sky said...

Hi Everyone, nice to see a blog and a community teaming up with solar power interests. I have been doing some research for solar power for homes. A few latest technologies have come up with which u can power your entire house (yes without having to take a connection from your govt elec). Start up cost is what i am trying to find out. But as far as i can see, the shift in the thinking of people has really ignited the Solar power. Will try to post the exact details of the cost, production capacity and installation of residential solar plant for an independent house. If any one has any info, pls share. Good Luck

Anonymous said...

Hi all,
I liked your article verymuch. planning to build a farmhouse with solar power. Waiting for more information on cost, good dealers, etc.

Thank you,
Go Green!!!

Lalit Patnaik said...

Your post - and especially your name - reminds me of Harish Hande and his commendable job with Selco Solar. Hope more and more people take to renewable energy, especially solar energy, in a big way.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Lalit Patnaik:

Thanks for pointing out. I am not aware much about Harish Hande, will try to figure out.

Anon:
thanks

Sky:
Do share the link once you publish exact cost details

Vijay:
I do not have much pointers at this time. Will try to figure out something. Google is the best friend.

Rony Daniel: Good idea, someone should experiment it

solar energy said...

I sure hope solar technology catches up. If they can just make it a tad more efficient with electricity-production, it would really help.

Solar Panels! said...

You're lucky to live somewhere sunny. I live in the UK, where solar panels can still pay themselves off over time, but solar power must be a brilliant investment in India, not just on a small scale for gadgets but on a wider scale for household electricity production.

photovoltaic solar panels said...

Although a sunny climate is helpful. I don't think it's only about that. I believe a better way to store these absorbed solar power should also be a concern to make solar energy more viable.