June 17, 2009

Solar power breakthrough in Bengal

JAMURIA (Raniganj),16 Jun 2009: An abandoned thermal power plant in Asansol has been converted into a mega solar power generating station - perhaps the only instance in the world where a high-carbon power unit has been replaced by a zero-carbon one.

What’s more, the 2-MW project marks the first time in India that a solar project has crossed the megawatt threshold and is poised to give a huge fillip to India’s renewable energy ambitions.

It’s being considered the first significant climate-responsive project in South Asia and marks the culmination of solar man S P Gon Chaudhuri’s lifetime dream. Six years ago, the diminutive man who is a giant figure in the Indian solar space, won the Ashden award, better known as the Green Oscar.

“This is empowerment of India in green energy and demonstrates the country’s intent and ability to be climate responsive in the energy sector. It has already catalyzed commercial interest in solar power that has been shunned by private companies till now due to high capital investment and a longer break-even period,” said Gon Chaudhuri, managing director of the West Bengal Green Energy Development Corporation.

In a few years, with the use of nanotechnology, the cost of setting up a solar power plant will be reduced by half, thereby negating the argument that mass producing solar power is cost prohibitive.

At present, capital investment in a solar plant is Rs 15-18 crore per mega watt - four times that of thermal energy at Rs 4-5 crore/ MW. The cost is expected to be slashed by half and efficiency doubled when nano technology is integrated in solar cells in 4-5 years.

The project is located in Jamuria, 20 km from Asansol and 210 km from Kolkata, in the heart of India’s coal belt. A 6-MW coal-based thermal power plant of Dishergarh Power Supply Co (DPSC) once stood on the 8-acre plot that is now the site of the solar project, comprising 9,000 crystalline type solar modules of 230 watt each. The plant will generate 3 million units of electricity a year, enough to light up 2,000 rural or 500 urban households.

The facility will save a whopping 7 lakh tonnes of carbon dioxide emission a day - the CO2 that a 2-MW thermal project emits daily. The power the solar plant will generate will be fed into DPSC’s grid for distribution to customers in the Asansol-Raniganj belt.

DPSC will purchase the power at Rs 5 per unit and MNRER will pay Rs 10 per unit as generation incentive. WBGEDC can earn a further 97 paise per unit through the sale of carbon credits that the project will accrue. Annual revenue is pegged at Rs 4.8 crore. Only the US and EU member states have such large solar power units.

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