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Renewable Energy Sources: What Will Work for India?
chillibreeze writer — Prashant Bawankule
Energy was never in such demand as it is today. The hunger of developing nations for energy has increased and there is a heavy shortfall in production. The rising demand for energy has led to prices spiraling up and the deterioration of environment. Then there are phenomena like “global warming” which are catching the attention of people across sections and countries. The major concern is the future atmosphere of earth which would be completely different if the rate of environmental pollution is not stalled. There is stress to use clean energy which will not pollute the environment. The conventional fuels – oil, coal, coke, natural gas, etc. – are limited. As the demand for these fuels increase, these resources are diminishing day by day.
Of the total power produced in India, the major source is coal followed by oil & gas which are followed by renewable sources. Coal is the cheapest form of energy but has a great impact on the environment due to the pollution created by it. Renewable sources used for power generation are only about 12% in India. The energy required is not just for enerating power but for each and every activity.
There is a dire need to develop renewable energy sources –sources which are available and could be utilized (solar or wind) or the sources which could be created and utilized (bio-mass). The main renewable energy sources for India are solar, wind, hydel, waste and bio-mass. Bio-mass are resources which are agriculture related like wood, bagasse, cow dung, seeds, etc. There are some other sources through which energy has been tapped around the world. These projects though carried out at smaller levels, show that energy could be tapped from our activities.
Renewable Energy Sources
India has a total hydro energy potential of about 1.5 lakh MW of which about 20 % is installed. Small hydro plant potential is about 15000 MW and most of it is in the northern and eastern hilly regions. The film ‘Swades’ is a perfect example of how power starved villages could realize their sources in to power.
The wind power potential of India is about 45,000 MW out of which capacity of 8748 MW has been installed in India till 31st March 2008. India is one of the leading countries in generating the power through wind energy. Gujarat, AP, Karnataka, MP and Rajasthan are states having more than 5000 MW potential each. These potentials could be improved if the technology of putting turbines in sea is embraced. There are wind farms on sea generating as high as 160 MW of power.
Biomass is the oldest means of energy used by humans along with solar energy. As soon as the fire was discovered, it was used widely among humans mainly for heat and light. Fire was generated using wood or leaves, which is basically a biomass. Even today there are thousands of houses using firewood for preparation of food, heating water for bath, etc. The efficiency of such a process is very low as most of the heat is lost to the surroundings.
Biomass is converted into gas through a gasifier after combustion. The biomass could be used to generate steam or power or used as a fuel. There are various examples of gasifier power plants in India. Power is generated using rice husk in Andhra Pradesh, while several bagasse based plants are there. India has a potential of 3500 MW from bagasse. Other fast growing plants could be planned over a huge area, so that it provides biomass for generating power.
India has more than 50 million Ha of wasteland, which could be utilized for cultivating plants. Jatropha is one of the options thought of by many minds for producing bio-fuels. It is a kind of plant which can come up on arid land, albeit with lower yield. There are issues such as low supply of quality seeds, technical advice, low knowledge of agencies which would buy seeds etc. But lately such agencies have come up and are offering technical advice as well as buying for further processing.
Another option is coming up in bio-fuels which will beat Jatropha once the research on it is successful and scalable. Lot of it is being talked about around the world in the field of bio-fuels and is so attractive theoretically that anyone could go for it. When the output is compared in terms of oil in liter per acre, it is better than Jatropha by about 100 times.
This option is Algae.
The input is none other than carbon dioxide – the old foe of clean environment and light – which is aplenty. Just by using these two things algae grows, and could be used forextracting oil and then extracting bio-fuel from it. It will also act as a sink for carbon dioxide and seems to be the most attractive option. In a way it should be called utilization of solar energy!
The oldest source of energy to be used on earth! Even today, this is used to dry tons of material – mostly in rural areas. India is a tropical countries and has many sunny days. According to estimates, 35 MW of power could be generated from 1 sq km. With such potential, solar is going to be the future.The startup cost is the biggest limitation which has led to the low realization of the potential it has. For solar energy to become one of the front runners, it will require lot of research, cheap technology and low capital.
There are various technologies coming up around the world, which could be up scaled or replicated to use solar energy. Cooking, lighting, water heating and open air drying applications are common now-a-days, using solar energy. There are other applications like solar vehicles, desalination, agriculture, etc. which are coming up. It will take time to catch up because of the high cost involved in it. The two main methods of converting solar energy in to power are:
Energy from wastes
Tons of wastes are generated daily in Mumbai alone. Such huge quantity of wastesgenerated all over India, are a huge opportunity to be tapped. Sorting is required to be done for organic and inorganic and there is a good quantity for energy needs. Some of these are converted into fuel briquettes and sold.
What will work for India?
Due to the prohibitive price, solar will remain on the back foot in India in the near future.There are efforts from industries to reduce the cost and make it cheaper than the present situation. Solar has a great potential and will be utilized by individuals or some institutions for their captive needs. However, large installations will take at least around 5 to 10 years in India to make its presence felt.
Other forms of renewable energy like biomass, bio-fuel and wastes will also require time in India. The technologies to convert jatropha, palm oil or algae into bio-fuels are not yet commercial and will take time to become economical. Algae, if pursued and successful, will be the answer to the worries of energy. It will not only engulf the huge amounts of carbon dioxide, but also give higher yields per unit area. Wind energy will be the biggest beneficiary and will grow from its present position. From over 7500 MW of installations to 45,000 MW potential, there is a long way to go. In a short span i.e. around next five years it will be wind energy which will grow.
In the short term (up to five years), wind energy will rule the roost. It is poised to grow due to the mature technology and easy installation. However, after ten to fifteen years, it will be solar and bio-fuels which will be major front runners for renewable energy usage. These technologies will be more mature and economically viable by then and the global warming phenomenon will force us to embrace those technologies.
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