Taking the wind out of Nuclear.
A Factfile on alternatives from S P Udaykumar.
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June 2002 - There is no doubt that India, a developing country with a huge population, has growing needs of energy. At present the country is said to be facing a shortfall of about 40,000 MW. The conventional thermal energy generation that involves the burning of a particular quantity of coal releases twice as much carbondioxide into the atmosphere. This will have a disastrous effect on our environment when trees that could absorb this carbondioxide are being cut down in large numbers. Economic reforms that include privatization of power plants and attracting foreign capital do not seem to be helping either.

A major portion of the Rs. 10,000 crore loss incurred in 1997 by state electricity boards in India was because of subsidies to the agriculture sector. Another Rs. 5,000 crore on an average is lost every year because of inefficient distribution. Electricity theft and sloppy administration add further to the loss of the electricity boards.

 Resource   Gross Potential   Achieved 
Wind 45000 MW 1628MW
Solar thermal 35 MW/sq km -
Solar photovoltaic 22 MW/sq km 2.24 MW
Biomass 3500 MW 381 MW
Small Hydro 15000 MW 1663 MW
[Source: MNES]
All these things do not necessarily mean that we need to embark on costly and highly dangerous nuclear power generation. There are many viable non-conventional energy sources such as solar, wind and bio-mass. Mr. M. Kannappan, Minister of State (Independent Charge), Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Sources (MNES), said according to one estimate, if all the solar energy available around the world could be harnessed, it would be enough to provide as much as 20,000 times the present world energy consumption. Only a meager 1.5 percent of the non- conventional energy resource is being exploited in India. The state of Tamilnadu accounts for the lion's share of two-thirds of the total energy generated.

Wind Energy

After a reassessment of gross potential of non-conventional energy sources, the Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Sources (MNES) has upgraded India's potential realization in the wind power sector from 20,000 MW to 45,000 MW. The Ministry has prepared a master plan for 80 potential sites in 10 States on the revised criterion based on mean annual wind power density (MAWPD). (The Hindu Business Line, November 25, 1999). The Koodankulam area that has hundreds of windmills now is one of them.

India currently has a total installed wind power capacity of 1,080 MW and at least five billion units have been fed into the grid since the 1970s. There have been several teething troubles such as inadequate wind data, weak grids and outages and incompatibility of the largely imported infrastructure. However, the most significant advantages associated with wind power are short gestation, modularity and environmental neutrality.

The Rajasthan Government has undertaken the task of establishing the second wind power project at Deogarh in Chittaurgarh district after installing a similar plant in Jaisalmer. The Rajasthan State Electricity Board (RSEB) has signed a power purchase agreement with the State Power Corporation to buy power at the rate of Rs. 3.03 per unit (The Hindu, March 18, 2000).

Solar Power

We already have solar fridges, solar radios, and even solar hearing aids. We have solar cookers in various shapes and sizes. Now the world's first solar-powered crematorium is built in the Indian state of Gujarat and it will save about 600 pounds of firewood for each body cremated. A 540-quare foot solar dish will reflect the sun's rays onto a specially built coffin taking two to three hours to reduce a body to ashes. In Rajasthan the 140 MW Mathania solar power project, pending since 1988, has been approved recently by the Centre, and Rs. 872 crores had been sanctioned for establishing it. The plant would become operational by 2003.

The solar photovoltaic cells are still two to five times as costly as power from the grid. Yet, the sale of solar photovoltaic cells expanded 42 per cent last year. If annual production grows by 25 per cent a year, solar capacity could reach 106,000 megawatts by 2020, generating as much as 30 to 40 large nuclear plants. Since 1980, the price of solar cells has fallen by 80 per cent.

The Solar Photovoltaic (SPV) water pumping system consists of an 800/860 WP (weather permitting) photovoltaic arrangement, a permanent DC magnet motor-driven floating pump which can pump water from a depth of eight metres through the optimum of 6.5 metres. It can ideally function in a wide-mouth well with a flow rate of 70,000 litres a day. The photovoltaic modules on the solar panel captures energy from the sun and converts it into electricity. The panel is connected to the pump via a plug so that the farmer finds it easy to use. The system works as long as there is sunshine. In places where storms are frequent, the photovoltaic arrangement is reinforced with cement in a horizontal position. The system costs about Rs 2.4 lakh. The Ministry for Non-Conventional Energy Sources (MNES) and the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA) proposes a subsidy of Rs 1,20,000 a pumpset and an equal amount as soft loan. If the SPV system is used on a large scale by farmers, it could relieve the government of the burden of power subsidies (The Week, December 13, 1998).

Bio Gas

An improvised biogas plant of two cubic metres that feeds on kitchen waste can produce enough energy for a household. For instance, kitchen waste from the All India Women's Conference (AIWC) working women's hostel is put to productive and profitable use. As part of the efforts to produce electricity from solid waste, the Tamilnadu Energy Development Agency (TEDA) has prepared project reports for Coimbatore, Tiruchi and Salem. TEDA has already completed the "resource assessment study" on municipal solid waste in Salem Corporation, and would undertake similar studies in Coimbatore and Tiruchi corporations. TEDA has already completed 17 taluk-level surplus bio-mass assessment studies in various districts of the State, to provide guidance to private investors keen on establishing power plants based on bio-mass. Similar studies are being carried out in more taluks (The Hindu, December 15, 1999).

Hydrocarbon Resources

The ministerial group set up to formulate the strategy and the action plan for a more effective tapping of the hydrocarbon resources of the country over the next 25 years has submitted its report to the Prime Minister. The ministerial group had primarily focussed on tapping unconventional sources of natural gas, such as coal bed methane, natural gas, hydrates and underground coal gasification. The government has approved an investment of Rs. 48 crores for the national programme for the development of gas hydrates as a commercially viable energy source envisaging a joint effort involving oil companies, the Directorate General of Hydrocarbons and several research institutions and universities (The Hindu, Tuesday, March 14, 2000).

S.P. Udayakumar
June 2002

S P Udaykumar is currently based in Tamilnadu. Udayakumar also runs the South Asian Community Center for Education, Research and Action (SACCER, www.saccer.org) Trust at Chennai, to carry out community work, and educational and research ventures. He obtained a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Hawai'i, and worked as a Co-Director of Programs at the Institute on Race and Poverty, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. He is on the editorial board of the Journal of Futures Studies and In Review. This factfile was compiled in October 2001.