What does it take for businesses and manufacturers to reduce our carbon footprint and create a better tomorrow?
While sunny days may not be our favourite kind of weather in India, particularly now, in the middle of a heatwave; they can serve as a tremendous economic asset. With 300 sunny days each year, India’s solar energy potential is 5000 trillion kilowatt-hours/ year. In case you were wondering, that is a tremendous amount! To put it into perspective, we can generate more power in one year using solar power, than we would from using up all our fossil fuel reserves!
Think about how that would affect our economy for a second: Renewable, clean and abundant energy for all our villages, homes, offices, industries and anything else we could think of! Plus, we’ll get to save all the diesel we burn in DG sets to generate power during outages (15 million tonnes annually!). It’s a win for the economy, and a definite win for the environment.
But, the uptake is low. Partly, this is because most homeowners find the entry costs of solar power to be prohibitive, as it’s a big investment upfront. And for others, the effort involved in getting solar panels installed can be a deterrent: solar panels tend to be heavy, and often require preparatory work (reinforcing, cutting, drilling) to be done on the roof to make sure it can even hold up the panels. Then, there is the problem of longevity. Being made of toughened glass, the panels can be damaged, and are vulnerable to the elements. The real issue was acknowledged by Mr. P. K. Wilson Purty, Chief of Integration and Innovation, Tata Steel. He said, “There were no robust, complete solutions… problems with the quality of the components used, or the service provided were putting customers off, when they could, in fact, benefit greatly from adoption”
Luckily, there are a number of solar companies that are looking at these problems. Several offer finance solutions, that takes the sting away from the initial investment; there are also consultants available who perform a home audit, and help consumers identify exactly what they need, and how best to achieve it. The problem of weight (which often means that the existing roof can’t support the panels) and that of toughness still remains. For most customers who live in places where vandalism is an issue, or where winds and storms can be harsh, solar panels remain an option better left unexplored.
This is the area that Tata Steel chose to focus on: how could solar panels be made tougher, and lighter at the same time? In the past years, they’ve leveraged their R&D and experimented with various combinations of materials and technology, to increase toughness, improve output, and make these panels lighter. The result: Steel Integrated Solar Modules for Electricity (SISME) that are perfect for home use.
First, there is no glass. SISME uses especially galvanized steel sheets, making these panels practically unbreakable. It also comes with a unique modular, weld-free mounting structure that has been specially designed to withstand wind loads up to 200km/hr. The panels are 20% lighter, which means that they can be supported by most roofs, without modifications to the roof itself as there is no cutting, and no drilling! Tata Steel has made this a turnkey solution; which means that beyond making the decision to go solar, the customer doesn’t need to do anything more from his end; Tata Steel does the rest. From the initial assessment, to the installation and testing, it all just happens once the customer decides.
Now, for those homeowners who want to put a toe in the water before they jump in, this solution really works. It is modular, and comes with the full kit: the battery system, inverter, monitoring unit and charge controller. One can start with just one small panel that powers their light bulbs and fans, and then scale up as needed, and as and when one can afford it. And of course, affordability gets easier when you’re saving so much on your power bills.
For homeowners who have made the switch, it has been an empowering experience. Solar power gives them much greater control over their power usage. They can choose to run devices directly, or store the power generated for when the power cut happens, or push it back into the grid; it becomes a choice. The home becomes less vulnerable to external dependencies: be it the availability of grid power during an important family event, or the fluctuating cost of the diesel needed to run the DG set. It puts the homeowner back in control, one has reliable power, and it has already been paid for!
From a national perspective, this is a great way to solve our energy deficit problem. We’re a country where we get strong sunshine even during winter months, which means a higher return on investment for the homeowner, and reduced stress on the energy grid. As more and more homes reduce their dependence on grid power, the current problem of power cuts disappears. Another factor which works in our favour is that we’re still largely a country of individual homes rather than apartment buildings. More roofs, more sunlight captured.
The day is not far, when we as a country meet our NDC goal of generating 40% of our power from non-fossil fuel sources. We all can play a part in getting there. Whether we be individual homeowners, or builders creating the housing projects of tomorrow, or businesses and manufacturers looking to reduce our carbon footprint; we all have the power to contribute. The technology already exists, it’s up to us to take the next step, and build tomorrow!