In India, Solar Ambitions Are Suddenly Outsize


 A worker cleaned panels at a solar plant in the village of Meerwada in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, which aims to add 800 megawatts of solar power within five years.
By DAVID FERRIS
After years of lagging behind China and the West in the adoption of solar power, some states in India are proposing to build solar farms at a galloping pace that leaves them at risk of falling short of electricity (a familiar problem here) or of paying higher prices for it.

In just the last five months, five Indian states have announced plans to bring giant amounts of solar power online within five years, including 1,000 megawatts in Andhra Pradesh, 350 megawatts in Rajasthan, 800 megawatts in Madhya Pradesh, 1,000 megawatts in Chhatisgarh and a whopping 3,000 megawatts in Tamil Nadu.

By comparison, the entire nation of India currently has just over 1,000 megawatts of solar power, and California, the leader in solar power in the United States, has around 2,000. India has more than 300 sunny days a year and much of the nation lies near the equator — ideal conditions, geographically speaking, for harnessing solar power.

The central government has a goal of producing 22 gigawatts of solar power by 2022. Proponents say that solar energy might reduce the country’s dependence on coal, which is always in short supply, and slow the effects of climate change, including sea-level rise, which endangers the country’s coastal cities.

The national government, known here as the Center, intends to lean heavily on the states in working toward that target. And in the last few months a handful of states have emphatically responded.  “The momentum is shifting from the Center to the states,” said Vineeth Vijayaraghavan, who publishesa newsletter on the Indian clean tech industry.

Recent events in Tamil Nadu underline the risks of trying to build out solar power too quickly.

Rolling blackouts are a fact of life here because of a 4,000-megawatt deficit in power production. In response, the government announced in October that it was seeking bidders to build 1,000 megawatts of solar power each year until 2015.

Tamil Nadu modeled its bidding process after one that worked out strongly in the central government’s favor. In 2011, the center sought bids for solar power and was overwhelmed by suitors — it received 5,000 megawatts’ worth of proposals for 1,000-megawatt projects. The government held a novel reverse auction that made solar developers compete with one another to see who could sell power to the state more cheaply. The resulting rates saved the utility and its customers significant money.

Tamil Nadu introduced its own 1,000-megawatt offer last October, and initial interest by solar developers was intense. But some companies grew wary when they examined the fine print. Rules were vague about when payments would be made; the state’s power distributor, known as Tangedco, is in poor financial health, which makes it harder for solar builders to secure loans; and the utility took no responsibility for transmitting the electricity that the developers created.

Furthermore, the projects had to be unveiled at a punishing pace: companies had to acquire land, line up financing, build the solar farms and switch on the power by the end of this year.

As of Friday’s deadline, the state had received bids for just 499 megawatts, less than half its target.

Energy officials maintained in a press report that the response was “by no means discouraging.” But Tobias Engelmeier, the managing director of Bridge to India, a solar research and consulting firm, said that since many of the bids won’t meet the state’s criteria, Tamil Nadu may end up getting only 150 megawatts of solar power this year.

“I think that Tangedco was expecting a lot more enthusiasm,” said Madhavan Nampoothiri, a solar consultant in Chennai, Tamil Nadu’s capital. “They weren’t able to allow an extension, and now they’re going to have to.

http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/09/in-india-solar-ambitions-are-suddenly-outsize/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Solar-powered catamaran goes around the world in 584 days


Solar-powered catamaranThe solar-powered MS Turanor PlanetSolar crosses the finish line of its trip around the world at the Hercule Harbor in Monaco. (Laurent Gillieron / Associated Press / May 4, 2012)
By Deborah NetburnMay 4, 2012.

 In the spring of 2004 Raphael Domjan, a Swiss electrical engineer, conceived of a borderline insane idea — to travel around the world aboard a ship powered entirely by solar energy.

It would be an adventure and a statement. If he could do it, he would prove to the world that there are other alternatives to powering sea travel besides fossil fuels and wind. It would also demonstrate just what solar power is capable of.

In 2008 he formed a partnership with German entrepreneur Immo Stroeher, who helped provide the funds to make this idea possible.

And now, eight years later, Domjan’s dream is a reality: On Friday, the solar-powered MS Turanor PlanetSolar catamaran pulled into port in Monaco after completing a 37,294-mile journey around the world.

“We have shown that we have the technologies as well as the knowledge to become sustainable and safeguard our blue planet,” Domjan said in a statement.

The ship, designed by New Zealander Craig Loomes, is made of a durable lightweight carbon material and is covered with 38,000 solar cells that feed power to six blocks of lithium-ion batteries.

“Each new sunrise provides the catamaran with the light needed to continue its journey,” the PlanetSolar team wrote on its website.

It took the 115-foot boat 584 days — roughly 19 month — to make it all around the world. That is admittedly not a super-fast pace.

But there were stops along the way to promote solar power and even an encounter with pirates. There was also some waiting for the sun to come up to power those lithium batteries.

Now that the Domjan has completed his mission, he and the team at PlanetSolar will have to figure out what do with the ship.

“We are considering renting out the boat for scientific or commercial uses or even selling it,” Stroeher told Wired. “We are open for ideas and in talks with interested parties — from the use as a ‘green’ luxury yacht to scientific usages and the utilization as the world’s largest mobile solar power battery, everything is possible.”

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