How can one use unlimited electricity and not pay anything in India?
Exploring the Possibilities
Affordable, reliable electricity is fundamental to modern life. It provides clean, safe light around the clock, it cools our homes on hot summer days and heats many of them in winter, and it quietly breathes life into the digital world we tap into with our smart phones and computers. Although hundreds of millions in India plug into the electric grid every day, most of us don’t give it a second thought. Where does it come from? What’s its story?
Lets start from the beginning. How did we get here in the first place?
When we take a fresh look at electricity, we see that keeping India powered up is actually an amazing feat. Here’s the Story of Electricity.
Although people have known about electricity since ancient times, they’ve only been harnessing its power for about 250 years. One of the first major breakthroughs in electricity occurred in 1831, when British scientist Michael Faraday discovered the basic principles of electricity generation. He observed that he could create or “induce” electric current by moving magnets inside coils of copper wire. The discovery of electromagnetic induction revolutionized how we use energy.
In order for the magic of electricity to truly take hold in the world, new industries were needed to build the generators to supply electric power, as well as the new appliances and electric lights that used it. In 1882, with J.P. Morgan funding his efforts, Thomas Edison launched the businesses that would later be known as General Electric. Edison connected a large bank of generators to homes and businesses (including the New York Times) in the immediate area through a network of buried copper wires. At that time, there was no “electric grid.”
Electricity required a different business model because it was different than virtually every other commodity. Electricity had to be consumed the moment it was produced. (Storage was very costly and limited — and still is.) In order for electricity to become accessible and affordable, someone needed to bring together mass efficiencies in production and consumption.
In the era of modern power plants, coal has always generated more electricity in the India than any other fuel source. In recent decades, we have seen other sources compete for second place: first hydroelectricity, then natural gas, nuclear power, and natural gas again. But solar picture is slowly coming on the scene.
The ever-growing applications of electricity explain the increasing use of fuels like natural gas, oil, and coal in power generation as opposed to direct uses such as heating or transportation. In 1900, for example, less than two percent of natural gas, oil, and coal were used to make electricity. A century later, 30 percent of our use of natural gas, oil, and coal was devoted to electric power.
What’s the situation in India today?
Globally, the energy market is at a transformational stage. India can choose to be a laggard or be at the helm of this development. With its power supply demand mismatch, rising challenges with operating conventional power plants, the country should invest its resources into building a new energy infrastructure that will bring long-term energy security, rather than tying itself to power plants that will be inadequate, cost more over time and require the country to spend more money on imports.
As of 2016, 250 million people in India didn’t have access to electricity.
India gets most of its electricity from aging, dirty coal-fired plants. (It has little domestic production of oil or natural gas.) And its energy infrastructure is in dismal shape. The obsolescence of its power grid was demonstrated by a massive 2012 outage that left more than 600 million people in the dark and drew attention to a utility sector in disarray, with an estimated $70 billion of accumulated debt.
What about Climate Change? How will electricity generation affect it?
Going by current trends, if India follows the traditional path in which emissions increase as living standards rise, it will be disastrous not only for Indians but for the entire planet.
By way of illustration, consider what’s happened in China. From 1980 to 2010, while the country’s per capita GDP grew by $193, to $4,514, its emissions per capita grew from 1.49 tons per year to more than six tons per year. China is now the world’s largest emitter of carbon. India’s per capita emissions as of 2012, the last year for which figures are available, were 1.68 tons per year, and its 2014 GDP was $1,631 per person.
India’s population is expected to grow by another 400 million people over the next three decades, bringing it to 1.7 billion by 2050. If India follows a path similar to China’s, that will add another eight billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere each year — more than total U.S. emissions in 2013.
Such growth would easily swamp efforts elsewhere in the world to curtail carbon emissions, dooming any chance to head off the dire effects of global climate change.
By 2050, India will have roughly 20 percent of the world’s population. The result will be a climate catastrophe regardless of anything the United States or even China does to decrease its emissions. Reversing these trends will require radical transformations in two main areas: how India produces electricity, and how it distributes it.
How much electricity does India need and does it have resources for it?
The utility electricity sector in India had an installed capacity of 303 GW as of 30 June, 2016. The gross electricity generated by utilities is 1,106 TWh (1,106,000 GWh) and 166 TWh by captive power plants during the 2014–15 fiscal. India became the world’s third largest producer of electricity in the year 2013 with 4.8% global share in electricity generation surpassing Japan and Russia.
By the end of calendar year 2015, India has become power surplus country despite lower power tariffs. The per capita electricity consumption is lower compared to many countries despite cheaper electricity tariff in India
India consumes around 800 million tons of coal a year and could more than double that number by 2035, according to the World Energy Outlook from BP. To meet that demand, and to limit coal imports, India plans to increase domestic coal production to 1.5 billion tons a year by 2020, from 2015 levels of 660 million tons.
Almost 70 percent of India’s electricity today comes from coal-fired plants. About 17 percent comes from hydropower, much of it from large dams in the northeast. Another 3.5 percent comes from nuclear. That leaves about 10 percent, depending on daily conditions, from renewables — mostly wind farms.
India has ambitious plans of adding 100 gigawatts of solar power capacity by 2022. (India has about four gigawatts of solar capacity today.) Fifty-seven gigawatts of the planned new capacity is supposed to come in the form of utility-scale solar, including so-called “ultra mega” projects, ranging in size from 500 megawatts up to 10 gigawatts.
Over the last two years, India has been a 1 GW per year solar market. This seems to now be ready to rise to 3 GW. This is still far less than what would be required to reach a target of 100 GW, but it is a highly respectable growth rate nevertheless.
What are the other countries doing right and can India learn from it?
As solar is rapidly becoming a mainstream energy option, India needs to think about the best way to deploy it. So far, central and state policies have primarily focused on utility scale projects and the average project size has been rising constantly. Now, the government plans to set up solar power projects at the GW scale.
However should India learn from other countries and put more emphasis on smaller rooftop projects, as, for example, Germany, Australia and Japan have done? The US and China, on the other hand, have a more even split between utility scale and distributed rooftop generation.
Setting up the infrastructure to support the production of renewable energy would not only give India a great boost of innovation and employment in a new industry (with all the additional economic and social benefits), but would also make its economy and its businesses much more resilient to deal with an energy future that will be very different from the current one. In short, solar has too many advantages for India to ignore.
What’s the problem that needs to be solved?
The Electricity sector involves the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity. Carbon dioxide (CO2) makes up the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions from the sector, but smaller amounts of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are also emitted. These gases are released during the combustion of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, to produce electricity. A look at China shows the downsides of a coal-heavy strategy: severe pollution and enormous water-usage.
In 2014, the electricity sector was the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for about 30% of the U.S. total. Greenhouse gas emissions from electricity have increased by about 12% since 1990 as electricity demand has grown and fossil fuels have remained the dominant source.
Building 100’s of GW of new coal would be immensely polluting, require huge investments into rail and port infrastructure, pollute very large amounts of India’s fresh water, weigh heavily on India’s import bill, drive up global coal prices and presumably bring the global climate to the brink. Conventional sources of power, largely coal, account for around 60% of this. In comparison, solar barely contributes 1%. In the “business as usual” scenario, projected by the International Energy Agency (‘IEA’), India will have an installed power generation capacity of around 800 GW by 2035.
Is it the end of the road for non-renewable energy?
Use of fossil fuels is expected to rise around the world, almost doubling the amount of each fossil fuel.
As world population continues to grow and the limited amount of fossil fuels begin to diminish, it may not be possible to provide the amount of energy demanded by the world by only using fossil fuels to convert energy.
The fairly low cost of converting natural resources to energy causes most countries to use fossil fuels as their main source of energy. There is only so much oil, coal, and natural gas that the earth can hold, and we can not use these resources as if there is an unlimited amount for much longer. Some estimates say that there may only be as few as 20 years of oil left if the world keeps with the increasing consumption trend before oil prices sharply increase resulting in a possible international economic crisis (EIA).
Is Solar Energy a possible solution?
In reality, of course, the picture is much more complex. Solar comes in many different shapes and sizes. Currently, grid connected projects are typically in the range of 10–50 MW. In addition, there are GW scale projects in the pipeline. At the same time, solar is deployed at thousands of sites, near consumers, across the country in kW sizes (typically on rooftops).
The solar power industry is going through a tremendous burst of creativity and innovation as more people switch to solar energy instead of energy generated by fossil fuel-burning power plants. The latest generation of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells is far more efficient than their predecessors. Many are thinner or blend into a roof better.
Photovoltaics were initially solely used as a source of electricity for small and medium-sized applications, from the calculator powered by a single solar cell to remote homes powered by an off-grid rooftop PV system. As the cost of solar electricity has fallen, the number of grid-connected solar PV systems has grown into the millions and utility-scale solar power stations with hundreds of megawatts are being built.
There are several types of renewable energy sources in existence today. These include the sun, wind, flowing water, biomass, hydrogen gas, and geothermal heat. Because the transition into a new alternative energy phase may take at least 50 years, as well as huge investments, a set of criteria may be considered in order to decide the right energy source for a given region.
These are the things we need to keep in mind
(1) availability in near future (15–25 years) and long term (25–50 years),
(2) net energy yield,
(3) cost to develop, phase in, and use resource, and
(4) environmental effects from extracting and transporting.
For all these reasons, solar energy is generally an excellent choice for consumer use. It might not be the best choice for every location, such as a windy region with less sunlight. Most areas in developing countries are, however, extremely well-suited for its applicability, making solar power one of the most widely known renewable energy sources.
How is Solar suited to a country like India?
Solar technologies are extremely promising with ever-increasing output efficiency and the capability to be used in a variety of locations. The intrinsic qualities of solar design afford it great utility for the following reasons:
1) most developing countries are located in a remote region with optimal access to the sun’s rays, and not much else;
2) most resources for fuel and energy that are available to developing countries can only be used by exploitation of the ecosystem, which leads to social decline;
3) rising global independence of fossil fuels quickens the need for solar technology, which will increase competition and lower prices;
4) solar systems are relatively affordable and applicable to both homes and villages, as households of industrialized nations are using solar more than ever before;
5) within solar technologies, passive solar design is absolutely the ultimate in renewable energy for buildings, and can be coupled with solar panels to achieve maximum comfort and sustainability.
Many projects capitalizing on solar power have already been implemented in developing countries, and serve as encouraging results for many more to come.
What are some idea/prototypes that have could be used in the future?
Low Cost Solar Panels: To successfully deliver solar power to rural communities, manufacturing and deployment costs of any novel photovoltaic (PV) technology must be less than that of current silicon-based technologies. Low-temperature processing enables the manufacturing of light, flexible cells with high power-to-weight ratios (>100 W/kg) that are easy to transport, store, and install.
The SunZilla generator provides a clean and easy-to-use alternative energy. It is made for off-grid energy production in remote areas, outdoor events, refugee camps or in case of emergency situations. The SunZilla system combines four unique features: it’s open source, portable, modular and easy-to-use with a plug-and-play approach.
What could happen in the Future?
All the electricity demand in India isn’t likely to be met by traditional energy sources. India’s coal-fed power plants — which contribute to nearly 60% of the total production — have been grappling with periodic fuel shortages. Domestic production of coal hasn’t quite kept pace with demand, which alongside expensive imported coal, has made things difficult.
The rooftop solar market in India has grown by 66 per cent in the 2015. With this new market opening up, technology solutions are going to be key to move the market forward. In June 2015, India increased its solar target to 100 GW by 2022, with 40 per cent of this to be met by rooftop solar. Rooftop solar can be a game-changer for India’s solar market.
Simultaneously, there’s been a steady decline in solar power prices — on the back of cheaper solar panel costs and lower financing costs — that has made the sector increasingly attractive to investors. By 2019, according to some estimates, India could achieve grid parity between solar and conventional energy sources. That’ll mean that solar power will cost less than or equal to power from conventional sources.
Ultimately, some combination of distributed solar power, local microgrids, and large renewable-power plants will be needed to address India’s energy needs over the next 50 years. You can’t extend the grid to every village and hut in India, but you also can’t develop and operate a 21st-century manufacturing base using unpredictable distributed solar power. The key will be figuring out what works on a state-by-state, city-by-city, village-by-village level.
If you think about the solar-heavy scenario, consider this: if India were to supply 60% of its 2035 electricity from solar, it would need to build 1,600 GW of solar plants. From today’s base, that would require a 35% growth rate every year. At today’s cell efficiencies, this would require around 1% of India’s total landmass. There would have to be a lot of investment into the grid (balancing, spinning, storage, smart supply and demand management).
So the future for solar looks bright in India?
Of course, if India were to build anywhere near that much in solar (around 4 times the total global installed capacity), then you can expect the cost of solar and of storage to fall by 50–80%. It could well be the much cheaper option. Both options sounds staggering — but that is the task before India. And if you put your faith in the solar scenario, you realize that the 100 GW target is not what this game is really about.
The future of the solar industry depends on a combination of factors — technological advancements, new innovation in manufacturing and system design, reforms in the electricity market, collaboration with and support from electricity regulators and policymakers.
The question is: which energy system will India — by 2035 the most populous country on the planet — chose to develop. Huge investment is required for transmission; up-gradation of infrastructure in order to utilize power generated through Renewable Energy sources.
Space is no constraint to making solar a key building block of India’s energy future. In a thought experiment, we estimate that 0.5% of India’s land mass would be enough to build as much as 1,000 GW of solar, from which India could meet its entire current electricity demand.
In contrast to all other energy sources, the raw potential for solar in India is virtually limitless. If we were to envision a scenario wherein half the district of Barmer in Rajasthan (0.5% of India’s land area) is covered with solar panels, installed capacity of the area will reach 1,000 GW. The total resultant electricity generation will be around 1,500 TWh per year, which interestingly is more than the total electricity requirement of India. Solar plants can be built very quickly and in very different sizes. Moreover, they contribute to India’s energy security and lead to lower levels of local pollution and carbon emissions while being extremely cost efficient.
On an average, India receives 5.39 kWh/m2/day* of solar power. If this were all captured by solar cells (and if they had an efficiency of 100%), India could generate 6.5 million TWh of solar power per annum. This would be more than 6000 times India’s current requirement.
Solar energy is one of the most exciting solutions in front of to generate unlimited electricity while at the same time not damaging the environment. There are only positive possibilities that lie ahead of us. A FUTURE with no electricity bills and more importantly zero pollution.