Sunday, March 25, 2007

Exploring Synergy of Clean Energy Sources

"Available 24/7" is obviously not a phrase that solar or wind power plants swear by. For obvious reasons - these are forces of nature that we can only harness when they are available. The sun does not shine at night, and the wind only blows at peak capacity about 30% of times in the best of locations. So that means that they will always stand at a serious disadvantage versus fossil fuel based solutions where the power source can be easily stockpiled and used as and when required.

Power grids therefore have had to balance off the addition of any solar or wind power with equivalent power from a conventional power plant. Of course this leads to inefficiencies as the conventional power plant does not get to operate at full capacity, thus increasing the cost of its output.

Denmark uses hydro-electricity from neighboring Germany, so it tends to draw more and less power depending on how the wind is performing. This works well because the flow of water that generates the hydro-power can always be controlled. Of course this is not an ideal scenario but it does present an interesting case study on how a combination of renewable power sources can help overcome the disadvantages of each.

In India, small solar-wind hybrid systems are slowly getting popular, aided by huge govt subsidies. On a much larger scale California is building two 50 MW solar thermal power plants, which will use biogas from cow dung as a backup fuel source.

If this experiment is successful, Indian policy planners should take note. India has the largest bovine population in the world, and the second largest human population. The sun is also especially generous with India. Energy independence thus seems only a matter of infrastructure.