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Times’ article on Solar Power in TN (with inputs from Boniface of Ulaginoli Energy Solutions)

EMPOWERING THE STATE

TN Govt Is Keen On Solar Power, But At Rs 18-25cr Per MW, Financial Viability Remains A Challenge

M Kalyanaraman | TNN


When chief minister J Jayalalithaa said on Tuesday that there would soon be some good news on the power front, many looked at solar energy as the answer.
But experts caution that any new initiative should be implemented after considering all the consequences. Solar, for instance, is a pricey option, they point out. The state’s power deficit is around 3,000 MW. To bridge the deficit using solar alone may require an investment of up to Rs 50,000 crore. Further, solar producers are paid Rs 18 per unit generated, as per central norms. This would be at least three times the price paid by consumers, and hence add to the government’s subsidy burden, experts say. Typically every solar plant needs five acres of land for one MW. Mass solar plants may require largescale land acquisition.
Proponents of solar power, however, point out that the plants require no fuel, generate no emissions and are clean. There is a global thrust towards solar power, and the government can easily get monetary help from the Centre — through the National Solar Mission — and international funding agencies. More importantly for Tamil Nadu, the solar plants can be up and running relatively quickly.
“It is just a question of assembling ready-made solar panels, which can be accomplished in less than six months,” said P Boniface of energy consultancy Ulaginoli Energy Solutions.

Large-scale solar plants are a novelty in the country, and therefore the state will be treading on new territory. Sources close to the government say Tamil Nadu was a pioneer in putting up new wind power plants, which shows that it has the engineering resources to embark on a solar drive.
Critics warn that the lessons from wind power development should be applied in solar, too. Solar power, like wind, is intermittent. The power is available typically for eight hours, and a sudden cloud cover can damp down generation.
The ongoing power cuts are largely because wind generation has reduced to a few hundred MW,
despite the state boasting of a total capacity of 5,000 MW. “The deficit of 3,000 MW is largely due to the fact that the state had not planned for backup power sources when wind is not blowing and not enough wind power is being generated,” a central agency source said.
While solar could be an attractive option to quickly install power-generating sources, the state may be helped by the setting up of stage 2 power plant in Simhadri, Andhra Pradesh in July. This plant could provide 500 MW to Tamil Nadu.
Help can also come from Cauvery water, TNEB sources say. “If enough water can be supplied from Mettur for irrigation in the summer, then many agricultural
pumpsets that consume power can stop working, and help to reduce the gap between demand and supply,” they say. The officials are also hoping that wind generation will increase from the current levels of less than 300 MW.
Power purchase from other states is another option available through central power exchanges and short-term contracts with other generators. The power can be obtained at around Rs 4 per unit, a central official says. But there is a limitation on the power that can be transferred through the grid to the state. “A new transmission line is proposed, but will take at least another two years to be installed,” he says.

BALANCING ACT

SOLAR POWER
10 solar parks of 3,000 MW planned
Should be available for use within one year
Estimated cost is 50,000cr
The government has to pay a very high price to purchase solar power
PURCHASING POWER
Cheap purchase options available at 3 to 5 per unit in the national market. However, there is a limitation on how much power can flow to the state

ENERGY EFFICIENCY MEASURES
The government can save about 500 MW by implementing energy efficient measures like the use of energy conserving equipment in government buildings. The downside is it is very time-consuming
INCREASING CAPACITY UTILIZATION IN EXISTING PLANTS
An additional 1,000 MW can be drawn from existing thermal plants. However, this requires maintenance
and repair work which is expensive and tedious
There is scope for increasing power supply from the Neyveli plant
SPEEDING UP NEW POWER GENERATION PROJECTS
Ensuring Vallur, Ennore and Koodangulam start soon. (Scheduled completion is end of this year or early next year)
Government needs to give these projects top priority to ensure on-time completion and reduce delays

CURRENT SITUATION
TOTAL DEMAND
12,000 MW
TOTAL AVAILABLE
9,000 MW
TOTAL DEFICIT
3,000 MW
(Wind power generation now less than 200 MW, creating a gap between demand and supply)

LOOKING UP: A view of the solar steam cooking system on the terrace at Sathyabama University

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