A couple of years ago while visiting the solar energy centre in Gurgaon just outside Delhi I was pleasantly surprised to see the trial runs of a new technology being developed. It was solar refrigeration and cooling. The scientist, Dr SK Singh, showed us the solar contraption and we discussed its implementation in “real life”.
The solar cooling and refrigeration technology is almost the same as in the conventional air conditioning and refrigeration technology, the only difference is in the source of power it receives. Conventional cooling technologies are run on electricity or on diesel powered generators. The solar ACs and refrigeration works with the help of electricity or the heat produced by the solar power whichever is required at the plant.
Of the two AC technologies available – vapour compression machines and vapour absorption machines – solar will work better in the latter. Vapour compression machines are the ones we use at home in ACs that range between one to 3 tons or maybe little more.
These compact machines pack a lot of cooling punch and need dollops of electricity which can only be generated if you have a large space to install flat plate solar panels or even concentrated solar thermal contraptions. Even if it is viable in a residential complex the cost is prohibitive today.
However, the other technology – vapour absorption machine – which is used to produce 30 tons or more of cooling power can effectively and economically utilise solar technology. Government offices, institutions and installations, army units, railways and large manufacturing units as well as warehouses, government grain go-downs, dry docks etc are the prime candidates for such installations.
They have enough contiguous floor space on their roofs or in their compounds to install a huge cooling system. Estimates show if one uses concentrated thermal technology they can install a 30 ton refrigeration or cooling plant in their premises using 250 to 300 square metre of space to put up the solar collectors. This much space is available in an over whelming number of industrial and government units.
This will save industry and the government offices millions of rupees in electricity bills or fuel (diesel) to run the refrigeration and cooling machines.
Central Electricity Authority of India has estimated that the total demand for refrigeration and cooling is around 35000 MW (Megawatt). When we compare this figure with the total installed capacity of electricity generation in India that stands at 225000 MW we realise this accounts for 15 percent of the total electricity production.
Still the consumers are wary of the new technology due to three reasons. The first is the natural wariness towards a new technology, second, a large number of the customers aren’t aware of its potential or its existence and third the high initial cost of installation deters them to make a move.
The combination of these three factors is symptomatic of a reality that the technology is at the first phase of introduction. Not many people know about it, those who know they are not sure about it, those who showed initial enthusiasm are weighed down by the high cost of installation.
Promoting solar refrigeration and cooling can be a great platform to begin with. The technology has been strengthened due to many scientific trials and installation in meeting different needs. The ministry of new and renewable energy has subsidies and other financial instruments in place to promote it and there is a huge market present to be tapped.
The government should create an intensive awareness drive among the target audience and articulate the long term benefits of the new technology. In any case there has been a latent need for government intervention in promoting renewable energy technologies on a mass scale y emphasising the life cycle cost.
As most of the Indian consumers are price conscious they become unenthusiastic the moment they hear about the high initial cost of installing a new technology. This mindset needs to be tackled if the solar refrigeration and cooling technology is to realise its actual potential.
The consumer has to be sensitized about the life cycle cost which considerably improves solar technology’s chances. The 25 years life cycle cost of installing solar refrigeration and cooling in a manufacturing unit will liberate the plant from being a hostage to power cuts, constantly rising power tariffs and in case of diesel generators the rising cost of diesel.
Taken in a 25 year time span solar will come out to be far cheaper. Add to this there are instruments accelerated depreciation and 30 percent subsidy on solar installation that the unit can avail of to bring down the immediate pressure their wallet has suffered.
Marketed with the right mix of incentives and awareness programmes, the new technology holds the key for substantial savings of conventional energy consumption and bringing down carbon footprint.
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