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Power in India: Seeking the light at the end of the tunnel

Posted: 06 Aug 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:India  power  energy  solar 

India's dependence on energy imports is growing at a worrying rate, where its current Rs.6.98 lakh crore bill could balloon to Rs.13.37 lakh crore over the next ten years, according to publications quoting a Goldman Sachs report. These figures illustrate a pressure to secure more fuel sources in order to compensate for a limited domestic supply caused by inefficiencies.

But for Indians—many of whom live in areas suffering from rolling blackouts, even the absence of power—their rising energy import bill is hardly news. They have even witnessed breakthroughs in their seemingly endless power struggle. Generation capacity was tripled over the previous decades. The Electricity Act of 2003 was introduced. At the end of the day though, everyone remains hankering after a reliable, uninterrupted energy access.

When its northern electricity grid broke down in July 2012, India was cast in darkness. Time stopped at homes. The engines of industry and commerce stalled. This was a pause that made the nation rethink its energy future. It had an economy that followed a growth trajectory at best. But would its energy supply forever play catch up with the demand driven by industrialisation and urbanisation, thereby putting its economy on the perpetual edge of growth?

Backyard solutions

Insecure power supply will never become a case in which good things come to those who wait. An hour of outage is too expensive that firms will not stand to suffer and bleed. Industries, as well as homes, increasingly turn to captive power generation to lessen their reliance on the grid and ensure stable supply.

Captive power generation follows a decentralised energy management model. A self-sustained system draws load from local distributed sources including diesel generators and solar installations, and supplies this power to a dedicated area. The systems can either be connected to the grid or operated independently.

The innovation behind this system comes from its design—as a backup power source, it helps reduce demand at one end and improve stability at the other. During peak hours of demand, power can be drawn from captive generation instead to ease the strain on grids. Injecting surplus captive power into the grid can also contribute towards greater availability of power. Finally, since these systems use a variety of resources for power, they can keep running, however limited, even if supplies of diesel fuel run out.

IIT-Madras Department of Electrical Engineering Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala, along with Professor Bhaskar Ramamurthi and their team, developed a similar solution with DC power as its centrepiece. Designed for homes and work areas, the system facilitates lower power consumption, as well as provides limited but uninterrupted power.

We don't need to pay a lot for power

The energy management system, dubbed Green Offices and Apartments (GOA), works like this: the solar and grid inputs come into the GOA control unit, which converts them into DC. The load then travels along a DC line towards the main board installed in apartments or offices, powering DC electronics. If there is surplus, a battery stores it for keeping until needed.

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Figure 1: The GOA system setup. Source: IIT Madras, Ashok Jhunjhunwala

The merit in using DC in this system is clear. First, solar energy yields DC power. Second, batteries store power in DC. When used to power traditional AC electronics, a series of conversions would have to be performed where the resulting output energy is always lower than the input.

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