Mini solar plants on rooftops could be a better option than nuclear energy for our energy needs, says a veteran scientist

Can solar power be an alternative to nuclear energy? Is it a technical feasible option? A top scientist at the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Science thinks so.

In an article in the latest edition of renowned science journal, `Current Science', Atul H.Chokshi, Professor in the Department of Material Engineering at the Institute, has argued that policy makers should also consider the potentials for generating power from roof top mini solar plants besides solar farms on the ground.

Generation capacity

In a detailed calculation, he has shown that the rooftop solar panels of 3 KW capacity each should be able to generate as much as 1,900 TWh by 2070, as against the total projected energy requirement of 3,400 TWh by that point of time. The calculation is based on the projection that India's population then would be 1.7 billion and assuming an average household size of four, there would be 425 million households.

Prof. Chokshi also noted the mini solar plants would not require any extra space, unlike nuclear power plants, which could require land to the extent of about 7,000 sq km for the same level of power generation, considering that each plant would require an exclusion zone with a radius of 1.6 km and a sterilised zone with a radius of five km, with activities being limited to allow only for natural growth in the zone between 1.6 km and 5 km.

Further, he noted that the problem of transmission and distribution losses associated with centralised power system would not be there with the roof top solar plants. ``The distributed roof top solar system effectively may need to provide only about 80 per cent as much energy as the centralised systems''.

Pointing out that although there were challenges with all the different possible sources of energy, he said there was a need for a vigorous debate on what should be the appropriate approach to meet the growing energy need instead of just focussing on nuclear power. “It is unreasonable to assume that a drastic increase in nuclear power is inevitable”.

Noting that “it is not surprising that the NIMBY (not in my backyard) syndrome” is widespread worldwide for nuclear plants because of possible dangers to health and safety and near impossibility of conceiving evacuation of large numbers of people from near a catastrophic nuclear plants, he argued that roof top solar systems would not have such a problem.