The Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M) will not only coordinate part of the much-awaited national programme, Solar Thermal Project, but will also integrate the efforts of all the other IITs involved in the project.

The three-year Rs. 15 crore project, funded by the Department of Science and Technology, aims to use solar energy to find solutions to the country’s energy problems.

“Two years ago, all IITs were asked to present their proposals on energy generation. Expert committees were set up and feasibility studies conducted on the proposals, after which the project, divided into three parts has been sanctioned to different IITs,” said T. Sundararajan, head, department of mechanical engineering at IIT-M, who is coordinating the project.

The foundation stone of the project was laid at Thirukalukundram on Sunday.

Prof. Sundararajan, along with Srinivasa Reddy, another professor from IIT-M and Prof R. P. Saini from IIT-Roorkee, are involved in the first part of the project, which is the establishment of a pilot solar thermal power generation system.

“The project is on a much larger scale compared to regular academic projects. What we will do, is concentrate solar power using flat mirrors – fresnel reflectors, in an array on tubes carrying water, to create steam at high pressure and temperature,” said Prof. Sundararajan

The unique part of the project, said the professor, is that it can take steam up to 400 degree Celsius, much higher than the temperatures attained in other existing projects. “With high temperature steam, we are looking at better energy conversion. We hope to generate at least 75-100 kilo watts of electric power with the project,” he added.

The power generated on a pilot basis, will look at satisfying the energy needs of Pathashala, a school run by the Krishnamurthy Foundation of India, in Vallipuram, a village in Kancheepuram, about 80 km from Chennai. The project needed an open area for this mode of power generation and so this locality was selected, said the coordinators.

“There are nearly 110 students and many teachers there. We will provide power to this community and any excess power can be sent to neighbouring villages,” said Prof. Sundararajan.

The project, unlike many others that are de-centralised, has a distributed way of transmitting power and will be used to provide electricity to remote villages and mountainous terrains.

Since the energy is derived from steam, it can also be used for cooking and washing purposes, the professor added. The first part of the project will run into two phases of 18 months each. IIT-Bombay will meanwhile look into air-conditioning options through solar power while IIT-Guwahati will look at ways of storing thermal energy to be utilised later.

“Both these projects will be integrated with our solar thermal plant project at Vallipuram,” said Professor Sundararajan.