Friday, December 19, 2008

Karnataka's solar-powered village

Balenahalli near Chitradurga has 250 houses that draws its power supply from solar panels. A single panel that can power two bulbs cost Rs.9,000 four years back, when the village went solar.And the villagers are convinced of the benefits of solar power - no power cut, minimum power bill. Balennahalli residents retain regular power supply connection for farming and other non-domestic usage.

Solar maintenance is minimal,involving perodical topping up of distilled water in the battery. Local boys, trained in minor repair-work, take care of maintenance.

It appears a win-win situation,and yet it hasn't inspired other villages to go solar. People, even in cities, tend to view alternate energy as something that comes with high subsidy, if not as an outright dole from the government. Maybe Balenahalli wouldn't have opted for solar, if the villagers had to pay for its installation.

When someone mentions solar we think of subsidy. This has been the story of our public adoption of solar water-heating technology. An additional factor working against solar-powering is its relatively high cost of installation. We tend to overlook or underrate the energy-saving potential that enables recovery of the installation cost in three to four years. Besides being a cost-saver, solar-energy device does away with unannounced power-cut. With solar-energy we know when we can't have power-supply - on cloudy days.

In cities, and in affluent rural households, they have the inverter to take care of power shutdown. Snag is the solar power pack can cost twice as much as a conventional inverter. Which is an inhibiting factor. But then, they say, an inverter battery, while on charge, consumes more power. And at the end of the day we pay a higher power bill for the benefit of having uninterrupted power supply.

Solar-power would have a chance with urban households, if it is marketed as a hybrid inverter, with power-charged back-up option. Dealers with a tie-up with banks could extend credit to buyers at promotional interest rate. Builders and architects could factor in solar-power system while planning new apartment complexes.The cost of solar installation wouldn't look prohibitive, if it is worked into installment payments by apartment buyers.



A very viable option - will urban householders follow it up?
Recently while staying in a resort in Kerala, I was told that the water for our baths was heated by solar power.

kallu said...

Interesting. It is inspiring that a whole village has turned solar.
I dint know that inverters consume more power while recharging.
Some individuals, with money to spare are investing in solar power. But, it is a good idea if it were made mandatory for apartment complexes to include them in.

Ashwin said...

I'd like to elaborate more on the fact that 'inverters consume more power while recharging'.
Conventional inverters that we use at home actually contain 3 basic parts.
1. A rectifier circuit which converts AC current into DC so that it can be stored in a lead acid battery.
2. The lead acid battery itself.
3. The inversion circuit which converts the DC current from the battery to usable AC current.
Each of these parts practically are lossy. For example, lets consider the first part which is rectifier circuit. Ideally, all the current we supply should be stored in the battery. However, some of the electronic components heat up which is nothing but loss of energy. Many such losses in the circuits pile up. The overall efficiency of a home inverter is typically 60-70%.
That is, if you used a 800VA inverter for 3 hours at full potential, you would have spent about 4 units of electricity. If there was no power cut, you would have spent some 3 units at the max (with direct AC for running the same appliances).
However, the reason we don't notice this increase in energy spending is because we tend to become careful while spending power from an inverter as compared to spending power from direct AC.

Swarna said...

Urban household can do much more, provided they have the will - apart from solar water heaters, emergency solar lights (available from BEL), and the solar cooker.

shanks said...

The reason why it is not so popular is that there is no one/more agency to give proper, authentic and elaborate info on this including costing. There are al'carte service like BEL for Solar Cells, someone for Battery, someone for Inverter etc.,

It is the same reason why Solar Water Heater is a success today, there are companies who will provide end-to-end solution.

Lastly is there any credible information on lead depletion to atmosphere due to use of Lead Acid Batteries