Millennium Post

Renewable energy for a better future

Since the Fukushima nuclear reactor core meltdown four years ago, Japan did not produce a single watt of nuclear power for a full calendar year in 2014. The promise of nuclear power dominating in the new millennium has been belied.

The promise of third generation nuclear reactors bringing down the cost of nuclear power generation, and concomitantly reducing the unit cost of power thus produced has proved to be elusive. In India, RAPP I (or Rajasthan Atomic Power Project I) is ready to be dismantled.

The nuclear power renaissance that was supposed to have been the bedrock of the Indo-US civil nuclear power deal has, more or less, been put in the deep freeze. The people’s movement against the construction of nuclear power plant in Jaitapur seems to have delayed the project from taking off, if not pushed it off the table altogether.

One the one hand the demand for electricity is rising in exponential proportion to economic development. On the other hand, in a country like India, where most power is produced from coal-fired generators, carbon-based emissions are becoming a problem in a regime of climate change fears. 

The option, thus, is becoming obvious, only if the governments across the world are willing to listen. The solution to this multi-faceted conundrum is the renewable energy of the nature solar, the wind or even ocean waves.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set a target of generating 100 gigawatts of solar powered electricity by 2022. A Deutsche Bank study, released recently, states that with capital cost plunging from Rs 18 crores per megawatt or $ 3 million in 2009 to nearly Rs 6.5 crores per megawatt or $ 1 million, “grid parity is in sight and utilities/investors will focus on commercial viability. Going ahead, with the anticipated improvement in technology and increased the supply of panels from China/Europe, capital costs could stabilise at lower levels.”

However, the German bank foresees troubles in terms of power distribution companies facing problems in terms of power grid parity. For a lifetime of the projects, the bank estimates 19 percent return on equity (ROE) though it cautions that in the initial years the ROE may be low.

Despite lower returns in the initial years, there are two experiments that have been going on for the past four years, promising good results. First, there are the rooftop solar power generators. Beginning with large buildings that require 24-hour power backup based on diesel-powered generators, giving up the roof-top to photo-voltaic cell plates that capture solar energy to turn it into electricity may be more economical considering that the unit cost of power from these solar cells cost Rs 7, according to some estimates.

The second experiment is called ‘net metering.’ Net metering has been approved by the Delhi state government in 2013. This works on the basis of a principle that when a consumer draws power from the distribution company grid, s/he accumulates a debit balance. When the solar power generated by the consumer is fed onto the grid of the distribution company’s grid, the consumer gets the credit.

Readers may find this column unusual, considering that this subject is out of the normal groove of domestic politics or strategic affairs. This is just so much of tech talk, so unfamiliar to me. But then last week your writer had a longish conversation with two young graduates of Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur – Adarsh Das and Kushagra Nandan – who had followed the usual route that most IIT-ians and had taken to the land of milk and honey, the USA.

They picked up their management degrees from two different universities there and had worked in American corporate firms that dealt with solar energy. They then had the bright idea of replicating the same model in their own country – quite unusual for IIT-ians who would rather use their taxpayer- subsidised education to get their Green Card and, of course, the moolah that goes with it, enhancing the US GDP.

However, Adarsh and Kushagra made their way back to India – despite family pressure to stay back – and have taken the plunge in the area they know best, forming a start-up. And it can be said that they are blazing their trail. In the process, I got educated to the best of my limited knowledge of the subject at hand.

The author is a senior journalist
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