Sun shows the way

Though more and more solar power panels can be seen on building tops and other sunlit landscapes, even vociferous supporters of green energy may shy away from solar power installations owing to the high costs involved.

But these deterrents may be a thing of the past with the advent of a more pragmatic approach of straightaway using the generated solar energy and supplying the surplus power directly to the external power grid without fretting about storage (thereby drastically cutting the huge cost otherwise incurred on batteries), which is further aided by State and central subsidies.

The Kerala State Electricity Regulatory Commission regulated the Grid Interactive Distributed Solar Energy Systems in 2014, which directs the electricity distribution licensees (The Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) is the largest among the electricity distribution licensees in Kerala. Other licensees include the Thrissur Corporation, Cochin Port Trust, Thiruvananthapuram Technopark, and Kannan Devan Plantations Ltd. of Munnar) to provide connectivity to its low- or high-tension distribution feeders with the solar energy system installed by the consumers, subject to stipulated conditions.

All electricity consumers in the State are eligible for this scheme. The applicant has to install a Grid Interactive Solar Plant on their premises that should generate power amounting between 1 KW and 1 MW. Applications are received at the respective section offices of the KSEB which examines and clears them, subject to technical feasibility, in a time-bound manner.

The wow factor of the scheme is that the ordinary consumer, who has always been at the fag end of the power distribution network, is now elevated and bestowed with the coveted power generation partner status. A bi-directional electrical meter is a pivotal device in the system that monitors the energy flow between the solar panel and the grid. The regulation has provisions for energy banking, which make the KSEB pay the consumers for the excesses in their power export-import balance accumulated over a period of time. The consumer obviously has to pay the KSEB if the power imports are more than exports. The consumer can also get back the surplus power supplied to the grid at any pre-specified location in the State, if the same is not redeemed.

But well before the interactive energy systems took shape as a regulation, an institution not too far from Thiruvananthapuram city has been quietly implementing the system that won acclaims even from the United Nations. M.S. Faizal Khan, Pro-Chancellor of Noorul Islam University and Managing Director of NIMS Hospital, Neyyattinkara, was striving to provide uninterrupted and quality power supply for the hospital’s cardiac catheterisation lab that requires 110-120 KW at peak working hours.

The cath lab facility was too critical for any compromise which now merrily harbours a poly-power redundancy system with solar, KSEB power, and diesel generator working in alternation. The power is primarily from the solar panel, but when the demand goes up, balance shall be taken from the grid. If the grid also fails, the generator back-up feeds in, assuring no break in supply.

The NIMS’s hybrid power project was initiated in 2012, and took almost a year to complete. It covers 22,000 sq ft of the hospital’s rooftop with solar panels generating about 130 KW of power. The NIMS initiative is considered to be the first of its kind in Asia’s health sector, which made the United Nations invite Faizal Khan as a key speaker at the UN General Assembly recently for their session on “sustainable energy for all.” A vertical axis-based wind mill shall also find its space soon in the hospital’s hybrid power system which requires minimum wind speed.

Official sources at the KSEB say that 10 consumers with 304 KW of interactive energy system are in place since the scheme was implemented last year. Those who are active in the scheme include large industrial houses, shops, business establishments, and individuals. Nearly 300 fresh applications are under various stages of processing which would provide another 12 MW of energy, which is a great solace to the power starved state.

N.K. Pavithran, former Executive Director of NISH, was beaming all along while narrating his experience with the interactive system that he successfully installed at home. A PhD holder in Power Electronics, Dr. Pavithran is among the first individuals in the State to benefit from the system.

He says Germany and many European Union (EU) countries generate thousands of megawatts of power and are way ahead in tapping solar energy and wishes every household in the State partake in the new movement towards power self-sufficiency in an eco-friendly way.

The ordinary consumer, who has always been at the fag end of the power distribution network, is now elevated and bestowed with the coveted

power-generation partner status

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