The 1MW concentrated solar power generation facility is “an experimental project” being built collaboratively by the Solar Energy Centre (SEC) and the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. The plant, nearing completion now, will start undergoing trial runs by the first week of May.
Solar energy is touted as the best alternative to conventional power. But the technology still has a long way to go before it can successfully replace the available modes of energy generation. Impeding its progress are two crucial factors — high costs, and low efficiency.
And the minds behind Gurgaon’s concentrating solar thermal plant are attempting to resolve this very cost-and-efficiency conundrum with their new project.
“Usually, solar plants are composed of photovoltaic (p-v) cells, which convert sunlight directly into electricity,” said S K Singh, a scientist at the Solar Energy Centre, Gurgaon, and the director of the solar thermal department.
Photovoltaic cells don’t come cheap, and have an average efficiency of 17%, which means that only 17% of the energy that is captured from the sun is successfully converted to electricity. And this is where the new solar thermal plant, located within the SEC premises, will differ. “This plant works on the thermal principle. We will first use the sun’s energy to generate heat. Using this heat, we generate high-pressure steam, which is then directed to a turbine generator, which in turn gives us electricity,” said Singh.
This alternative method to generate alternative energy not only brings down the initial and long-term costs by as much as 10%, experts in this field say that it also increases the efficiency levels by around 8%. “Thermal plants usually have an efficiency of 20-25%, much higher than p-v plants,” added Singh.
Once the trial runs are over, the new plant will be connected to the state’s electricity grid, and will be generating enough green power to light up 4,000 households.
“We are expecting that this will be on the grid by May end. We have already installed all the solar collector blocks here. Here the steam will first be generated at 40 degrees Celsius, and will then be superheated to 350 degrees Celsius when it hits the turbine,” said an official of the SEC.