Sunday, February 18, 2007

More on the Solar Power House

The NEPC Solar effort which was widely covered in the media and the blogosphere actually raises many more questions than it answers.

Is NEPC a pioneer in this field?

There has been the implication that NEPC is a pioneer of sorts in commercializing solar power for home use. That is not true. Plenty of companies have been selling small-scale commercial solar power products ranging from Tata-BP Solar, which concentrates on the agricultural installations aided by heavy government subsidies, to Unitron Energy Systems which sells hybrid solar-wind solutions (again aided by heavy government subsidies).

But no other company has launched its product with the media blitz of NEPC. NEPC might well want to do to the renewable energy market in India what iPod did to the MP3 player market world-wide.

Does the product have a market?

NEPC POWER HOUSE (SOLAR), apparently the official name of the product, comes out in 500W and 1KW versions as of now, and will cost between Rs 100,000 (~$2300) and Rs 300,000 (based on various and slightly contradicting media reports). An entity with a monthly electricity bill of between Rs 4000 (~$90) and Rs 6000 will (as per the company) recover its investment in 4 to 6 years. Relatively few individual households in India have such electricity bills, but that does not mean the market is that restricted. There are plenty of commercial establishments that run up bills like that, and these are even now installing commercial solar products like water heaters like crazy. These companies provide a ready market for NEPC, as also to hybrid solutions providers like Unitron.

State governments from AP to Haryana are making solar water heaters mandatory in a wide variety of new buildings. This is bound to further increase awareness of the potential of solar power, and solar cells from products like the NEPC power house will increasingly compete with solar heaters for roof space.

Questions related to technological details...

Media reports have not been too helpful in this direction. We know that solar photo-voltaic cells are involved. Media reports also mention "cell technology", which from a previous report based on an NEPC press release that they were concentrating on fuel cell technology would lead one to deduce that they are using fuel cell-based batteries. If that is true, then it is indeed a technological leap for Indian companies in this area.

By no means does this seem to be technological marvel by world standards, but the key to success of solar technologies in India would be market penetration. And if by aiming for that NEPC is able to achieve any semblance of success, the market will be flooded with companies bringing in the latest of technological breakthroughs from Sydney to the Silicon Valley.

NOTE: If anyone has any additional details on the NEPC Power House, please feel free to leave some gyan or a link in the comments section... Thanks!