The Sunday Times of India April 12, 1998

Solar Energy can bridge gap between power demand and supply

Seema Singh and S. Srishar Prasad

BANGALORE: Did you know that if you have a solar water heater in your home, you get a five-paisa concession per unit in your electricity bill? More important, do you know where to get a solar water heater from?

More and more people are saying 'Yes' to these questions. That's because more and more people, fed up with power shortages, are turning to alternative sources of energy like solar power.

"Awareness of the benefits of solar water heaters is growing in Karnataka", said Sandeep V. Kadur, director of Solco Solar Hot Water Systems. "The solar water heater market has grown by 20 per cent in the last nine months." Not surprising.

But what is surprising is that, considering how bad the power crisis is in the state, the importance of solar power doesn't appear to have dawned on the powers-that-be.

Consider these statistics: Karnataka needs 72 million units of electricity every day, but has only 61 million units on hand. And if solar water heaters are installed in the 1.6 lakh all-electric homes (AEHs) in the state that have the potential to tap the sun for power, the state's daily deficit of 11 million units can be reduced to just three million.

If the solar market hasn't grown as much as it should have, the high initial investment appears to be the major reason. For instance, people who build houses are short of money at the end of it and prefer to install a geyser for Rs.5,000 rather than a solar water heater for Rs.24,000. For some reason, the government has scrapped the Rs.4,000 subsidy on solar water heaters.

"Though there is no recurring cost in solar power (the average life of a solar cell is around 20 years), the initial prohibitive cost of the inverter and the battery make the proposal unattractive to some people," says V.S. Mahesh, who deals in solar panels in Mangalore. Says E. Sinnas of Mysore Sales International Limited (MSIL): "Geysers may be available for RS. 5,000 but the long-term maintenance cost for them is much higher than for solar water heaters."

Though the KEB offers a five-paisa concession on each unit of power consumed to owners of solar heaters, many officers are unaware of this. Which results in such consumers making several trips to KEB offices to get their bills right.

Canara bank is trying to do what the government is not doing. If is offering a soft loan of Rs.12,000-70,000 at 5 per cent interest for those who want to purchase solar water heaters.

In the middle of the state government's apathy comes some good news. Under a new scheme, the Union government proposes to set up 40 Aditya Solar Shops across the country during the Ninth Plan period to facilitate spot sales of different renewable energy devices, their servicing, repairing and dissemination of information.

The Karnataka Association of Solar Manufacturers can be contacted on telephone numbers 3337033 and 3332060 (Bangalore) for more information ? Natural waste viable alternative energy source, Page 5

DeviceApprox costSubsidy*
Solar lanternsRs. 4,500Rs. 1,500
Home lighting systemsRs. 20,000Rs. 6,000
Street lighting systemsRs. 35,000Rs. 12,000
Solar water heatersRs. 15,000 (100 liter)Loan
Biogas plantsRs. 14,00030% of the cost
Solar pumpsRs. 50,000-4.5 lakh
(With a maximum
subsidy of Rs. 1.5 lakh)
Rs. 125/watt peak
Solar cookerRs. 1,200-1,500 Rs. 750
(only in 20 identified
blocks of the state)
Wood gasifier**Rs. 75,000
For 5 MW unit @ Rs.2.75
1/3rd of the cost
* Subsidy given by Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Limited
** Wood gasifier is a system where small pieces of wood are fed to
generate producer gas which, along with diesel, can be used to run generators

'Offices can help cut consumption'

Conidering the rapid rate of urbanisation, architects suggest some measures to check power consumption. H.R. Vishwanath, board director of the International Association of Housing Science, says offices can reduce the use of airconditoners and cooling devices if rooms are constructed in a way that ensures cross-ventilation. "Decorative water bodies should be constructed in the centre of the building covered with FRP sheets (coloured sheets which allow light to pass through)."
If air ducts are provided in the direction of the breeze and jali (perforated lattice) work is done at the lower and higher levels in the external walls, heat trapping can be significantly reduced. And, of course, lots of greenery can amerliorate the situation further.
"Climatology is an important part of architecture," says a leading architect of Bangalore. "The use of the right building materials, placement of windows in the proper direction and sloping of the rood are some important factors that can make an office or a home more livable and less dependent on electricity for light and breeze."