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Will the sunshine city ever tap solar energy?

According to reports, while the crippling power cut till about a fortnight ago has made people talk about tapping solar energy, , Vellore residents are yet to even think about it due to lack of awareness on the availability and cost of solar energy equipment.

Vellore is a sunshine city with over 300 sunny days a year with the mercury rising to 110 degrees F during peak summer. While the State government is keen on promoting solar energy in a big way and with households in cities like Chennai taking to solar energy by installing rooftop solar panes, Vellore still has a long way to go to tap the abundantly available solar energy.

A survey undertaken by the Vellore Corporation through its field staff recently revealed that only 18 buildings in the corporation area have installed solar panels for tapping solar energy. Of them, owners of 10 buildings use solar energy as a cooking fuel, while owners of five buildings use them for powering lights . Owners of the remaining three buildings use the panels for heating water.

G. Ramganesh, former president of Builders Association of India, Vellore chapter, said that neither has he got enquiries from the public about solar panels nor have companies engaged in marketing solar power systems approached him to popularise the systems among his clients. While the public are well aware of inverters and the fact that the battery has life only for about two years, companies marketing solar systems have not yet come out with the crucial facts about battery life in the solar panels. “They don’t mention the cost in the advertisements they put out in newspapers. The public are generally reluctant to go in for solar systems as it is a costly proposition,” he says.

M. Vengadasubbu, Managing Director, Hotel Darling Residency, Vellore, said that he is still in the process of studying various options for installing solar panels in his hotel.

Even hoteliers and other business people have no clear idea of the types of solar systems that would be viable for the hotel industry and other commercial establishments and the purpose for which solar energy could be tapped in a cost effective manner.

Mr. Vengadasubbu, however, said that he has installed a solar panel in his house in Muthanna Nagar for heating water, and that the system was working well.

A seminar on ‘Future energy path for small and medium enterprises, solar energy & efficient use of energy’ was organised by the Vellore District Micro & Small Entrepreneurs Association and TANSTIA-FNF Service Centre (TFSC) here on Tuesday. It threw light on cost factor involved in installing solar systems.

K.R. Jagadeesh Babu, vice-president (marketing), Solkar Solar Industry Ltd., said that solar energy is the only option to tackle the power situation in the State. This, considering the fact that growth in the demand for energy was 12-13 per cent more than the growth in power generation in the State.

On the cost factor, Mr. Babu said that while installation of a 10-KW solar panel for commercial premises would cost Rs. 21 lakh (inclusive of 5 per cent VAT of Rs. one lakh), the net cost after deducting the government subsidy of 30 per cent would work out to about Rs. 15 lakh.

The maintenance cost would be Rs. 7.5 lakh. The plant would generate 15,000 units of power per year (300 days a year), which works out to 3.75 lakh units for 25 years. The actual cost of solar power works out to Rs. 6 per unit as against the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation power which cost Rs. 8 per unit, and the power available from a diesel generator, the cost of which works out to Rs. 18 per unit.

If tapped for domestic use, solar energy would cost Rs. 8.5 per unit. Solar energy is cheaper if used for commercial purposes, he said.

While the installed power generation capacity of the State was 11,500 MW, the actual production was just 8,700 MW, against the demand of 13,500 MW.

The highest of 45 per cent power cut arising from this gap was imposed on domestic users and 30 per cent on industrial users. The potential for wind energy in Tamil Nadu was 3,000 MW, and this would be available only for five months.

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