Monday, June 6, 2011


Energy crisis that is haunting the world seems to be becoming worse with the crude oil prices in the global market reaching stratospheric heights putting the economic conditions of many developing countries under great stress. Though efforts are under way for finding out that elusive alternate energy source to replace the dwindling fossil fuel supplies, no single strategy appears to be commercially viable yet. Solar energy research has been able to make remarkable strides during the last three decades but the peak utilization of sun's abundant energy is yet to be achieved. One of the constrains is availability of adequate land that can accommodate vast solar energy arrays in many countries where land prices are exorbitantly high affecting the cost of generation significantly. Water bodies, wherever they exist in abundance, can become centers for establishing huge solar energy production and this strategy is now being propounded, considered suitable for many countries including India. Here is an expose on this new development.   

Sunengy, for example, is courting markets in developing countries that are plagued by electricity shortages but have abundant water resources and intense sunshine, according to Philip Connor, the company's co-founder and chief technology officer. Chris Robine, SPG Solar's chief executive, said he had heard from potential customers as far away as India, Australia and the Middle East. When your land is precious, he said, "There's a great benefit in that you have clean power coming from solar, and it doesn't take up resources for farming or mining." Sunengy, based in Sydney, said it had signed a deal with Tata Power, India's largest private utility, to build a small pilot project on a hydroelectric reservoir near Mumbai. Solaris Synergy, meanwhile, said it planned to float a solar array on a reservoir in the south of France in a trial with the French utility EDF. MDU Resources Group, a $4.3 billion mining and energy infrastructure conglomerate based in Bismarck, N.D., has been in talks with SPG Solar about installing floating photovoltaic arrays on settling ponds at one of its California gravel mines, according to Bill Connors, MDU's vice president of renewable resources. "We don't want to put a renewable resource project in the middle of our operations that would disrupt mining," Mr. Connors said. "The settling ponds are land we're not utilizing right now except for discharge and if we can put that unproductive land into productive use while reducing our electric costs and our carbon foot footprint, that's something we're interested in."

The move by Tata Powers to experiment with this new approach is laudable. Establishing such generating facilities in hydro-electric reservoirs makes sense because the solar energy power generated can be integrated with the hydro-electric power nearby. Probably it may take at least a decade for this strategy to take hold and establish its viability. 


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