Alternate Energy Systems -TOWARDS THE FUTURE

The term alternate energy refers to such forms of energy supply, which have not been exploited for large-scale commercial applications. These include nuclear power, wind energy, solar energy, biogas, biomass, tidal energy and geothermal energy. Most of these new forms of energy production are environment friendly and renewable. The main obstacle in the path of popularising these options is their high initial cost and low efficiency. While nuclear power has been successfully exploited around the world; in India the share of nuclear power in the total is just about 2%. At the same time the tremendous cost of installation of the plant as well as the danger of `nuclear meltdown` are making these projects increasingly risky. In addition, India’s stocks of Uranium are very limited, putting a question mark on the long-term feasibility of such projects. Many of the reactors are presently not working to their full capacity due to non-availability of raw material, among other reasons.

Solar and wind energy have received the greatest attention among the other renewable energy sources. Solar energy is abundant all across India and the potential for development of solar-based energy systems is enormous. Research into this field is being encouraged by the Govt. along with other renewable energy systems. The use of wind energy systems is limited to regions where sufficient wind speed is available for the operation of windmills and turbines. To encourage the use of such systems the Govt. of India through State energy development agencies as well as IREDA provide incentives such as soft loans, tax benefits to manufacturers of such systems as well as subsidies for setting up such systems. This has led, in recent years, to a marked increase in the use of these energy systems, for e.g. there has been an increase of 10% per annum in the industrial application of solar hot water systems alone in the past two years.
*cumulative up to March `93 from the early 80’s (about 10 years.)
   SOURCE: Dr. Rao Associates, Hyderabad.

The greatest application of these systems is in the remote rural areas that are not connected to the grid line. In such villages solar energy can be used for street lighting, water pumping, desalination plants for the supply of clean drinking water, etc. Biogas and Biomass gasifiers are also ideally suited to rural agrarian communities where the farm refuse can be put to use for producing gas which can be used as fuel. Many remote railway stations in Rajasthan, M.P., and other states have been electrified using solar energy.

Over the years the use of clean alternate energy systems such as solar, wind, biogas and biomass are finding acceptance in the residential, industrial, institutional as well as commercial sectors. Sustained research efforts into the field have helped in reducing the cost as well as increasing the efficiency of these systems. But these efforts have suffered from the lack of marketing support. Most of the institutes involved in the field lack facilities and funds to market their products due to which breakthroughs are slow in filtering down to the consumer.

Research efforts in India A BRIEF HISTORY

Research efforts into the field of alternate energy systems have been going on around the world since the `50’s. In India however steps in this direction were taken only in the late `60’s and early `70’s through the Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Sources (MNES). Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency Limited (IREDA) was set up in March 1987 as the nodal agency for co-ordinating the efforts of various state energy development agencies which were set up to encourage research into the field and also to popularise the use of alternate energy systems in the country. The main aims in setting up of IREDA are:

Gujarat Energy Development Agency (GEDA) has been very active in the promotion of alternate energy systems due to which Gujarat has probably the largest installed capacity of such systems. This shows the difference made by efficient marketing and publicity to the spread of these systems. Other state agencies are also involved in such activities, but have been less successful. Other private and govt. aided institutions are also currently involved in such research like Sardar Patel Renewable Energy Research Institute (SPRERI), Anand, Solar Energy Centre, Gurgaon, School of Energy Studies, Pune, Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI), Gurgaon, Centre for Energy Studies, I.I.T., New Delhi, etc. In addition to research into the utilisation of alternate energy sources, research into Solar Passive Architecture as well as energy conservation in buildings is also being dealt with. But an integrated approach to building design using the principles of solar passive design, energy conservation, and use of active systems is absent. Consultative centres for designers and architects are also very few making it difficult for them to come up with a totally integrated energy saving approach to building design. An effective combination of solar passive architecture, energy conservation and use of active systems would definitely lead to lower energy consumption in our buildings.

an Integrated Research Centre- NEED OF THE HOUR

The condition of the Earth’s atmosphere and ecology has reached a state where further degradation could be disastrous. Environment friendly technology is the need of the hour. Buildings contribute significantly to this pollution of the environment and efforts into the field of ‘greener’ buildings need to be stepped up. Research into this direction has been going on in Europe and the U.S. for a long time and they have gained considerable headway in the subject. Similar research in India on the other hand has been slow and disorganised. In the last century, the United States was able to benefit from oil technology in a way that England, heavily invested in oil based technology could not. Japan, its factories destroyed in the Second World War benefited from the opportunity to build a new industrial infrastructure unhindered by ageing physical plants. A similar opportunity awaits us in the developing world, where the need to rebuild the existing industrial infrastructure will benefit more from investing in new initiatives and technological innovation, than will attempting to replicate obsolete technology developed in the West. Investment in R&D is therefore of prime importance. Environmental awareness is also quite poor among the general public due to which concern for the environment and enthusiasm for greener options are conspicuous by their absence even in the larger Metros. This has hindered efforts to popularise the use of alternate energy systems in India. At the same time research institutes scattered around the country hardly interact with each other and co-ordination of research efforts is missing.

The key issues in popularising climatic design and the use of alternate energy systems are:

Therefore, a research centre where work is carried on in the field of integrated energy conscious building design would be of national interest, providing assistance to architects and engineers with detailed and complete information in energy saving design. Along with dissemination of energy related information, the institute would carry out advanced research into the high efficiency solar photo-voltaic cells, practical applications for available technology and also endeavour to co-ordinate between research organisations, corporate sector, N.G.O.’s working in the field and the Government.