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‘Oz shining’ in solar power, when will India learn?

According to reports, Australia, the country more than twice in size of land area of India and only one fifth the population of India, surrounded by water from all sides and blessed with oil and minerals, would certainly not be any match for resources of a country like India. And yet, if the country prioritizes Green in its development agenda and if election manifestos are drafted around sustainability and carbon footprint, these may be a few lessons for India.

For three years, in a country not only self-sufficient in its power generation but also surplus, the Australian government had put solar and alternative energy much higher in their list of development priority. One of the outcomes of this outlook has been its programme for alternative sources for power / energy generation.

With abundantly rich quota of coal, 89 per cent of its energy is generated through fossil fuel, of which coal accounts for 74 and natural gas 15. But what it implies is that 11 per cent still comes from alternative energy sources. Hydro power is six per cent, wind at three per cent and bio mass as well as solar energy constitute about one per cent each.

Rooftop solar power generation from households has found a huge impetus in the recent past.

Australia with its state policies has been able to hugely change the mindset of people within less than three years and succeeded in creating over 2,000 mega watt of power in the past year through individual households generating power through photovoltaic panels on their roof tops at their own expense and instance. All that the government did was to draft a policy that gave people the incentive to mount solar panels on their roofs.

Typically, the unit cost of electricity in Australia is about 25 cents. As against this, the government bought electricity generated by the rooftop harvesting at nearly double the price (48 cents per unit).

This was still profitable to the government because as it is said one unit of electricity saved is equivalent of three units generated.

People invest their own money, mount and maintain photo voltaic panels with inverter on roofs of their own homes. Typically, eight solar panels, generating up to five kilo watt power from the rooftops are sufficient to meet the energy need of a household.

These panels are directly connected to the main power grid and metered. They do not have battery backup, making them less maintenance-prone as well as less expensive. All through the day when there is abundance of sun, the panels generate the power.

What is needed for the household is consumed. Often on working days, the usage is less during day time.

The surplus is sent to the power grid and at night when the household needs it, the power is drawn from the grid. This is done through formal registrations. This arrangement means there is assured power generation through decentralised means.

While households have reached assured annual capacity of 2,000 mega watts of annual power generation already and saving millions of dollars for the nation, none of the four flagship projects of mega power generation initiated by the government authorities has been realised as yet. Only one is yet in process. This is the power of people’s participation through incentives. For people too, this has been the best economic strategy bringing return on their investments in less than three years.

At the state level, there are other incentives worthy of reference. All commercial buildings with an area larger than 2,000 sq metres are required to ascertain at least three-star rating by the energy-saving norms. As legal requirement, this provision is now becoming the demand of lay consumers and marketing claims of the developers.

Yet another initiative has been to create solar neighbourhoods with solar lighting, solar-powered buses and so on. In fact, to make people switch to public transport, alternative fuel-run buses are operating in business district at no charge to users.

There is also a strategy of demand side management for reduced energy consumption that is working innovatively and effectively.

In such a scheme, the production houses can register to observe voluntary power cut for four hours for four days of the week during peak hours and manage lighter or no-load activities during such operative hours. This reduces the peak time load and thereby averaging generation capacity over time. This assured voluntary power cut during peak time means meeting the demand at less capacity and thus saving large sums.

In the globalised world when multinational corporate can benefit from German technology-based, India-produced solar panels in Australia, can India not tap these resources to shine, literally, through ever-shining Sun on its rooftops.

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