No sweat, it’s Solar!
“Heavy rains, floods, and no power? Don’t go solo, just go Solar, will you?” could be a trivializing line from a comedy movie, unless you have known about solar energy. The sun is the only perennial source of energy, heat and light, in this world. And the best part of it is that it is free. And, we all know how we treat what we get for free. The same goes for the share of solar energy in the world’s total electricity produced, which is not even 5%. (Link)
Solar energy could be produced from photovoltaic cells, or from Concentrated Solar Power (CSP). Photovoltaic cells, or popularly called Solar cells, are electronic devices that convert sunlight directly to electrical power. They were invented in Bell Laboratories in 1954, and are among the fastest growing renewable energy technologies in the world today. Solar cell installations could be cascaded together to form a solar farm (park) to produce large-scale power, or could be isolated to a home or even inside a small electronic gadget, such as, a calculator. The cost of manufacturing solar panels (group of cells) has reduced so much that it is not only affordable, but is one of the cheapest forms of energy there is, and the panels have a typical lifespan of 30 years. (Link) However, the hitch is that solar panels produce maximum energy only on direct and high exposure to the sun, and hence do not work best in the shade or in bad weather conditions, but still produce energy proportionate to available light.
Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), on the other hand, uses mirrors to reflect and concentrate solar rays that could heat up water to produce steam, which could turn a turbine to generate electricity. The disadvantage of CSP is that it is best suited for large-scale power production only, and cannot be installed in homes or offices, where Solar panels come in handy. However, CSP has the distinct advantage of being able to store the heat generated during the day in molten salts potentially allowing generation of energy after the sun has set. (Link)
India is among the top 5 countries in the world in terms of installed capacity to produce solar power. With a capacity of 40 GW from all states, only Rajasthan has the capacity to produce roughly 7 GW, owing to the naturally available open spaces and abundant sun. The state was able to achieve a tariff as low as ₹2.48 / unit electricity in 2019. The government target for 2022 is to achieve 227 GW, and with 42 solar parks already installed and functioning all over India, there is a clear drive towards mass production of solar energy and in a sun-abundant country like India, this should be a ‘walk in the solar park’. With hundreds of villages in India already solely powered by local solar installations, the trend of the government is clearly to embrace renewable sources of energy. (Link) In addition to large-scale power installations, India does promote rooftop installations for homes, providing adequate subsidy (of upto 40% for small installations) for grid-connected systems (without battery). Furthermore, solar energy could be tapped through installation of solar water heaters on rooftops.
Although solar energy is clean and sustainable, the challenge is that the energy is available only during the daytime and is dependent on the weather. In view of this, PM Modi proposed the idea of One World, One Sun, One Grid (OWOSOG) at the ‘Accelerating Clean Technology Innovation and Deployment’ event at COP26. He said, “One Sun, One World & One Grid will not only reduce storage needs but also enhance the viability of solar projects. This creative initiative will not only reduce carbon footprints and energy cost but also open a new avenue for cooperation between different countries and regions.” (Link) This involves maintaining a single grid for the entire world, allowing the generation of energy from regions that have sunlight and supplying surplus energy to those parts that don’t. This way, the entire world gets to enjoy the benefit of solar power throughout the day/night. The positive side-effect is global co-operation and unity, as the ancient Tamil poet, Pungundranar, once wrote, “Yaadhum Oore Yaavarum Kelir,” which literally translates to “we have a sense of belonging to every place (in the world) and everyone is our own”.