Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Illumi-not-ti

This is the first of my posts on a social note. It's deepavali today, and although people call it diwali, it essentially means 'Festival of lights'. Lights today are mostly powered by electricity, just like every other thing on the face of the planet. And my state is heavily in short of power. The sad part is, the impact of it is delivered onto the common man, and he is suffering. A recent move by the government promotes solar energy. I'm here to present to you my views on what's going on and what we can do.

Tamil Nadu's power

Tamil Nadu has its major supply of energy from coal [coal/lignite]. Next in the thermal category is gas. Then comes hydel, and then nuclear. Then in the list come wind and solar. TN does not have abundant reserves of coal. But it has lignite to power itself for another couple of decades. Nuclear power is always a hot topic for discussion. There is a power plant running in Kalpakkam, and hopefully another one might start its functioning at Kudan kulam. The next big star here is wind. This guy is crazy. He's really crazy. TN luckily can rely on Wind. It's available to use freely and the state has been tapping the resource for quite some time. Almost the complete wind generation capacity was contributed by private players, with the government's help of course. Chennai is now called the wind energy capital of India. The complete credit does not go to Chennai. The logic could have been like "Chennai is the capital of the state with the maximum wind energy generation and so, let's name it that way". But several global wind energy companies [Vestas, Gamesa, Toshiba-JSW, and others] have set up shops here in Chennai. This pretty much sums up the energy scenario.

Several reasons have been put forth, several excuses been made and several fingers have been pointed at [different persons] for the power crisis, which now stands at about 2000 MW [or about 9000 units].

The first ones to get affected by the deficit are the industries, especially medium scale and then small and micro ones. Then come the public. Today, a scheduled load shedding of 2 hours prevails in Chennai, and more than 12 hours of it everywhere else. Add to it the unscheduled powercuts.

As the condition worsens day by day, it becomes increasingly necessary to address the problem. One way to do it, is to increase the capacity. This is supposedly being carried out already, and if you haven't heard how, it's by thermal [mostly]. And what do we do till then?? Go Solar!!! [Tada!]

The Solar shift

This sudden, abrupt shift towards solar power is due to the ever widening supply-demand gap and the attraction it brings with it [Sun can power your homes, blah blah]. And the most ridiculous thing about this is that the primary target is the common man again!!

This is no different from the story of Mohammad bin Tughlaq. [Quick recap] This lunatic king has his country in shreds. Economic crisis, poverty, no money in system. The guy orders more money to be put into the system. And when his own mints can't do them, he asks every citizen to mint coins in his [citizen's] backyard. Result? Everyone has money. Tons of it. Prices go up now. People turn greedy. Mint more coins. Prices go up again. People get more greedy. Money loses value. Then, voila! He declares all such bronze coins void. Crisis goes from bad to worse. People die.

I don't want anything even close to that happening now. So here is my viewpoint.


It is a bad decision to make people go solar. If solar energy is the way to go, the government must first turn solar and be an example for it. Imagine. Where would you put your beloved solar PV receiver thingy?? On your roof. We here in TN use the roof for a variety of purposes, starting from drying off our clothes to the seasonal vadaams. And, it is quite expensive for a regular middle class guy to invest in a solar PV panel. The bloody gadget takes up about 2 lakhs [yeah, you can argue that we get subsidy and all those shit, but who pays for that? You! Can you get a loan for that??] and saves close to 10 thousand a year. Not to mention the installation charges, maintenance charges [nobody even knows if it is necessary to 'maintain' PV boards], and battery costs [50k for 5 years]. And add to this ice-cream the cherry of inflation costs, and you get a costly sundae of electricity independence. How cool is this?? Let's see.

Q: What are all the appliances that you can run with an SPV gen- Battery pack- Sine wave Inverter system?
A: Fans, Tube lights, Light bulbs, TVs [may be], Computers [may be], Mobile/Laptop chargers, etc.

Q: What appliances you can't?
A: Air-conditioner [Die!], Immersion heater/Geyser [Die!], Electric iron [Die again!], Mixer, Grinder and anything else that looks big.

So, if you want to run your day to day appliances, you still have to depend on the Electricity board.

Q: Why the hell is it attractive then?
A: Let me answer you this way. You can kiss powercuts goodbye. You can generate enough power to fulfil your household needs partly. You can be part of an invisible green movement.

As can be seen, this will be very useful to people who already have an inverter in their homes. And next come those who plan to buy an inverter. And then, those who can at least afford an inverter. As is the view of many other energy enthusiasts, this solar energy generation at your own house is like a luxury. Those who have a car know the benefits of it. And those who want a car know the costs. The solar PV cell does not give you complete freedom from the EB. It rather uses the sun to feed part of your needs. The savings it is capable of offering is used up by the maintenance charges for itself, and if at all it offers you anything, it is uninterrupted power supply at no extra cost. The other advantage of the SPV panel is that you free the grid of valuable space.

Space? Did I say space? As you can see, the grid carries electric current in conductors. And the more current it carries, the more loss in T&D [V=IR] occurs. So every ampere you save, is an ampere for someone else. Assuming that the conductor size and number are constants, you can rid the grid of a little ohmic loss and if that is not significant you can save that space in the conductor for someone else who is currently facing a powercut. Feels like Mother Teresa, right? Well, there is a check here too.

Since our billing system is based on total usage of energy in a month, we don't usually bother about our appliances. But when we have our own generating unit, we have to take into account the maximum demand.

Assume that you have a 1 kW unit on your roof.
Assume that it is receiving splendidly bright light on a clear skied day.
Assume that the efficiency of the system is 100%.
Assume that you use some 500 W power during the whole day [2 tube lights + 2 electric fans ~ 400 W (another 100 W kosuru)]. You are forbidden to consume more than 500 W at any point of the day.
Assume that your in Chennai and in the month of May when the sun shines for more than 12 hours a day.
Assume that your Battery-Inverter set offers no resistance.

Only in such a case, will you be totally free from paying your electricity bills. Yes! You need not pay a single naya paisa. And you get free uninterrupted power supply forever. If you can see, I have made a lot of assumptions, and if you can see deeper, most part of most of them are crazy. All this for a cost of 2 lakhs [initial] and 50k every 5 years. I have not included the case of the panel failures or other major breakdowns. The SPV panel and the battery pack have a 5 year warranty period.

Are you happy? Will you be content with 500 W? I don't think so. The solar power system today is nothing different from a car. Or a DTH system.

You pay for it [heavily]. You have fuel costs. You have maintenance costs. Other expenses.
But you can have a reliable system. You can drive to whatever place you want, whenever you want. You save humongously on time.

Same way, a solar plant to a common man costs high. Costs for battery and maintenance. But he can have uninterrupted power supply at his own will. And that too, green.

Also try

In order that the system doesn't go any more chaotic, i propose an opinion. My approach is bi-fold. You can tap solar power to feed yourselves, but you have to minimise your needs. Just advocating solar power will do no good. Minimise your electricity consumption. Save on that. And THEN go green.

2 steps to do that.

1. Minimise power consumption

A) Ban all incandescent bulbs. Those bastards have had their day, and it's more than time we said goodbye. Most of our domestic lighting needs are satisfied by fluorescent tubes. Replace them with LEDs. Use LEDs everywhere. In your cars, houses, streetlights, and pretty much anywhere you want light. Just to prove my point...

       40 W Incandescent bulb          - approx 400 lumens
       40 W Philips fluorescent tube - approx 3000 lumens @ 6000 K [colour temp]
       40 W LED downlight lamp       - approx 4000 lumens @ 5000 K

[Please not that all the lamps here are the best in class ones, with the highest lumens per watt available over the entire commercial spectrum]
[Also note that norms for LED lamping systems are still in their nascent stage. So, it might take a while]
[Further research on LEDs possible]

You might wonder if a step from fluorescent to LEDs is wise. Yes, it is but not as wise as moving from Incandescent to LEDs. Though the reach of the breakeven is slow in the former shift than in the latter, it is actually quite good for the system, because, we've just looked at the wattage of the fluo-lamp, not at its power factor. If you take that into account, you'll see the actual current it takes. And consequently the max demand. So shifting from either of the sources to LEDs is wise [Wiser than installing a solar power system].

B) Demand an energy certificate from every appliance manufacturer. A 3-star rated product is ok. But a 5-star rated product [with the same power intake] is always better. Ban all companies that do not improve the energy efficiency of their products. Encourage people to buy high star-rated goods. Offer discounts [even 100 bucks attracts people. This is the beauty of India], or an extra free service. Do whatever you can to promote  highly energy efficient products.

C) Maintain power factor. There are norms for maintaining power factor for industries, educational institutes and other commercial establishments. Extend it to residential complexes. It can't be done on individual houses. But people today moving towards an urban lifestyle tend to live in about 100 families per complex, where this can be very well established.

2. Go solar sensibly

The move to promote solar power to the common man is a welcome move. But I'll welcome it only after a decade. If you wanna go solar, one ought to do it in a phased manner. Not in a mindless chaotic manner.

A) Make solar power systems a must for commercial establishments. Movie theatres, malls, factories, etc. can afford it more easily than the common man can.

B) Introduce it to residential complexes first. Car parks, sheds and roofs can be covered with SPV panels and the power can be utilised for common loads like apartment lighting in common places. This exercise can also be undertaken in individual houses, duplexes and villas.

The extension of solar power systems to all houses will then be sensible [if at all there is a power crisis]. Make a deadline and get things done.

As a last word, I wanna say that I'm not a fan of solar going public at this point of time. I just wish people resorted to reducing their consumption than increasing their supply. I hope the energy crisis ends soon.


  1. Hey I am commenting regarding your blog not for the sake of arguing but for this


    1) How is “which now stands at about 2000 MW [or about 9000 units]” 1 kwhr is one unit ..how did you make 2000 mw power as 9000 units of energy ?

    2) I understand that your “Think” para is written based on your thinking that government is promoting people to use spv power generation as the only source of power for an household. (u might not have considered this as a message to pass on to the readers but I come to a conclusion, based purely on what I understand, that the entire para is to argue the pros and cons of a using SPV power plant as the only source for powering an household )

    It is stupidty to have only solar captive power generation as the only source of power for an household . government is not asking us to do that..

    1kw spv plant will cost you around 2 lakh subsidy is 80k remaining 1.2k and still you cant run your grinder/ac etc(as you mentioned), by having solar SPV as the only source .
    Gov is promoting to install spv and along with eb connection separate meters is used for solar and EB, The government gives some Rs. 2 per unit for the first two years; Re. 1 per unit for the next two years and 50 paise per unit for the subsequent two years for the power utilized via solar.

    It is almost impossible to install huge spv cells, batteries, high capacity inverters to power the entire household appliance using solar. It is fairly safe to assume that person investing 1.2 lakh for spv plant in his home to have at least 1 ac , 1 fridge , 8 lamp/fan loads ,,etc

    3) For maintaining Power factor for home appliance there is norm that it is the responsibly of the appliance manufacture to correct the power factor within the appliance itself .for example capacitor is always connected to fan which need not be (I practically tried this) .. if you open an induction cooker you can see a capacitor inside which also need not be .. The idea is if each and every items sold for domestic use is power factor corrected then there is no need for separate power factor correction.

  2. the previous comment was by me

    Aswin Varadarajan

  3. Agreed... this solar thing is necessary but can't be implemented all of a sudden by any common middle class citizen.. People first learn to minimize the usage, or wastage is the appropriate word here.. Only those who are aware of wastage, and energy efficient lamps and stuffs will think of the next step, say Solar power... Lets hope this power crisis to die soon..

  4. Dear Aswin,

    Let me clear you on three things.

    1. 9000 units is a measure of energy, whereas 2000 MW is a measure of power.
    The power lag = the average demand in MW - installed capacity [MVA turned to MW for the sake of simplicity].

    The unit lag = Energy from plants - Energy consumed

    Energy from plants = [Power generated * powerfactor * time - GTD losses]
    Energy consumed = max demand * ss power factor * time

    2. You have misinterpreted my view as "Don't go solar". My claim is going solar is not gonna give you electrical independence. Buying an SPV is like buying a car. It is more of a luxury than a necessity at this point of time. This will not profit the customer in any way other than uninterrupted power supply.

    3. The capacitor on fans is more used for starting the fan than for maintaining pf. But fortunately, it helps that too. I've no idea about the induction cooker. But I don't think there is any rule that dictates domestic electronics manufacturers to stick to a particular pf.

  5. Hi Ach,

    I'm glad to have finally commented on your wonderful energy post. Thanks to the 24 hour power supply today. God knows from which source.