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Renewable Energy: The only hope for survival….

The only thing we can be sure about our present energy regime, is that it is not sustainable! The present oil reserves might last for 40 to 50 years. Gas might last a little longer, and coal, perhaps another century. Of course these figures are disputed. There are some who think that these will last for another hundred years, or even a little longerhink that these will last for another hundred years, or even a little longer. But nobody claims that these will last for a thousand years! Surely we humans hope to be around for that much, and even much longer!

But if we continue to burn these fossil fuels at the current rate, we will make this planet uninhabitable for humans, much before we run out of the last drop of oil or the last bubble of gas, or the last lump of coal. Even school children are aware of the dangers of global warming and climate change. But strangely, we, their parents, continue to think and operate in a “business as usual” scenario.

How long can we pretend that everything is hunky-dory, and “somehow” we will find a way out?

The answer is out there.

The scientists and engineers have been telling us what to do.

All we have to do is,  “do” it!

The only sustainable source of energy we have is solar energy, and its derivatives like wind, wave and biomass. We already have the technology to tap them. The problem was that they were too expensive, But now the scenario has changed. Wind farms broke even several years go. Now they are feeding electricity into national grids at rates comparable to those from thermal plants. Biomass is an old source, but biomass gasifiers for electricity generation is a recent development. Now electricity generation from agro-wastes and other biomass is in mega watts. Wave energy converters have been under development for a long time, and the most recent news is that they have started feeding into the grid at competitive rates in Europe.

But the most abundant and the most promising among them all, is of course solar energy. Solar Thermal Power Plants as well as Solar Photo Voltaic Power Plants have been  supplying hundreds of megawatts of electricity in to the grids,  for more than a decade. However, the drastic reduction in the cost of PV cells, which occurred last year, was the decisive turning point, and now, all overthe world, there is a dramatic resurgence in the installation of SPV Power Plants. Germany is in the lead, with more than 30,000MW of electricity being fed into its grid from SPV installations. Their decision to phase out all their nuclear power plants is very much predicated by their confidence in solar and wind energy.

India has launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Energy Mission, which however looks rather modest when set against our needs as well as our potential. Taking Kerala as a model, we can safely say that Kerala has the capability to change over completely into a fully sustainable energy regime, if we have the will to do so.

Here is a plausible scenario:

1. It is estimated that there are about 30 lakh households in Kerala, who have installed “inverters,”  which charge from the Mains. The first priority must be to persuade  all of them to retrofit Solar chargers. This will cost only about Rs 16 – 17000 per unit.

2. Almost all educational institutions and offices who have computers, would have installed UPS, which again are being charged form the mains. All of them should be persuaded to retrofit Solar chargers.

3. Many households are willing to install 1KW Roof top PV systems, with battery back up, because that gives them complete immunity from power interruptions. The present  policy of giving subsidy to them can continue. However, batteries are expensive (due to their recurring cost), and are not environment friendly. So, it cannot be a long term solution. For that, the roof top systems must be allowed to feed into the grid and draw from the grid according to their requirements. Any technical or managerial problem in this connection, must be solved with urgency.

4. Roof top PV systems should be made mandatory for all new houses exceeding 150 sq m floor area and also apartment complexes. All public and commercial buildings should be asked to put up roof top SPV systems.

5. KSEB should explore the possibility of installing SPV systems in canal tops and also floating panels (Floatovoltaics?) in reservoirs and other water bodies, to the extent admissible by environmental considerations.

6. The feasibility of large scale energy storage by Pumped Storage and also Hydrogen generation, should be immediately explored in the Kerala context. These are essential if we are to tap these variable sources beyond a certain limit.

There is tremendous scope for innovation and employment generation in this new emerging field. The role of government should be one of promotion, facilitation and regulation.

R V G Menon                                                                                                                                                                            RVGMenon Source :

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