Category Archives: Renewable energy

India’s solar energy development – 2

CHS’ founder, Winin Pereira, whilst acknowledging the advantages of solar power, focussed on issues relating to the toxic materials used in solar panels.

Pereira saw the need for safe disposal methods for the earlier panels and research into materials replacing those currently used in solar panels being replaced. ‘Energy and Lifestyles’ (co-author Subhash Sule,1988) listed some of the highly toxic materials in thin film cells – selenium, cadmium and titanium dioxide – and pointed out that some very strong acids are used to etch the surface of the solar cell to improve light entrapment, commenting “These materials, and their recycling, have to be handled carefully”.

In 2004, a Californian government report issued during the governorship of Arnold Schwarzenegger (who continues to campaign on environmental issues), also stressed potential  risks during the manufacturing process:  

The greatest environmental risk with silicon cells is associated with the use of gases (arsine and phosphine) during the manufacturing process.

At sites with installed PV modules, release of trace elements from sealed modules is unlikely except due to explosion or fire.

 Leaching of trace metals from modules is not likely to present a significant risk due to the sealed nature of the installed cells and the plan for recycling of spent modules in the future. 

The most likely routes for environmental release of trace elements are from accidental spills during the manufacturing process. At sites with installed PV modules, release of trace elements from sealed modules is unlikely except due to explosion or fire. Leaching of trace metals from modules is not likely to present a significant risk due to the sealed nature of the installed cells and the plan for recycling of spent modules in the future.

A variety of off-site treatment methods are utilized to manage the chemicals produced by photovoltaic facilities. The types of treatment facilities used include publicly-owned treatment works, metals recovery systems, solvents/organics recovery systems, and energy recovery systems.

The goal of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) is environmental sustainability and clean production for industry. Its members ‘envision a toxic-free future in which each new generation of technical advances includes parallel and proportionate advances in social and environmental justice’.

Five years after the 2004 report, STVC produced a White Paper with a section on hazardous materials used in solar PV cell production: “Potential End-of-Life Hazards for Solar PV Products”. It recommended:

  • reduction and eventually elimination the use of toxic materials and development of environmentally sustainable practices.
  • ensuring that solar PV manufacturers are responsible for the lifecycle impacts of their products through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
  • proper testing of new and emerging materials and processes based on a precautionary approach
  • expansion of recycling technology and design products for easy recycling
  • and protection of the health and safety of industry workers and the community throughout the global PV industry, including supply chains and recycling.

There is agreement that solar panels become toxic waste at the end of their working lives if they are not properly recycled.

Environmental Progress notes that only in the EU are solar panel makers required to collect and dispose of solar waste at the end of their lives and even there, solar panels are currently exempt from the 2010 WEEE regulations requiring manufacturers to take back all equipment at the end of its life. With regard to the recycling of silicon-based modules and non-silicon based panels it has two goals:

  • To encourage the industry to develop products that are easier to recycle and use fewer raw materials
  • and to lead producers to factor in the cost of the collection and end-of-life treatment of their products into the cost paid by the consumers.

The European photovoltaic industry has set up its privately funded take-back and recycling schemes PV CYCLE which has been operating across Europe since 2007. There is a Compliance Inspectorate which allows manufacturers and component importers to register as WEEE-compliant, providing waste holders and customers with relevant information on their legal status. The EU is convinced that the manufacturers’ voluntary take-back scheme is effective.

But is this yet another case in which the risks of self-regulation by industry should not be countenanced?





India’s solar energy development – 1

The Financial Times reports that the winning bid for the third and fourth phase development at Bhadla solar park in Rajasthan – a 500-megawatt solar farm – was one of the lowest prices for solar power ever seen anywhere in the world. The companies — Acme Solar, an Indian developer, and SBG Cleantech, a joint venture whose shareholders include SoftBank of Japan — said they would build the project for a guaranteed price of just Rs2.44 ($0.04) for every unit of electricity they eventually sold – substantially cheaper than coal.

The Bhadla auction confirmed that the country is undergoing a generational shift from coal-fuelled power to solar and wind and placed India at the centre of a global renewables revolution that is driving down the cost of green energy and which represents one of the biggest threats to fossil fuels.

As India is already the world’s third-biggest carbon emitter and plans to electrify even its most remote villages within two years, a rapid expansion in the country’s renewables sector would prove a huge boost for attempts to keep global temperature rises below 2C — the target set by the 2015 Paris climate accords.

Masayoshi Son, founder of SoftBank, has said he plans to invest $20bn in the Indian solar power industry. (The other investors are Taiwan’s Foxconn and Indian company Bharti.)

In 2015, the government of Narendra Modi set ambitious targets for building new renewable power. By 2022, explained the finance minister Arun Jaitley, India would build 175 gigawatts of new renewable power, of which 100 gigawatts would come from solar.

The solar plans alone are equivalent to 25 large nuclear plants

Manoj Kumar Upadhyay, the founder and chairman of Acme, one of a handful of companies competing for solar projects against many established Indian and multinational conglomerates suggests there are good reasons the price of solar power in India is so low.

In addition to its strong and reliable sunlight, the price of Chinese-made solar panels has tumbled in the past few years as a manufacturing boom has created over-supply.  Moreover, India’s notoriously high cost of capital has been reduced by strong government involvement in the solar power sector. At parks like Bhadla, the government acquires the land — removing one of the biggest hurdles in a country where land rights are difficult to negotiate — as well as guaranteeing grid connections and providing payment guarantees should state utilities default.

Six years earlier, India and China had been blamed for “sabotaging” a meaningful deal at the UN climate talks, but Mr Jaitley’s announcement confirmed India was now at the centre of global efforts to develop cheaper renewables and tackle climate change.






Solar power forges ahead in India – but is there any movement on hydrogen fuelled transport – road, rail or water?

British readers were impressed by the news about solar power generated on Indian railway station rooftops and arrays, which was posted on another website. The blog opened:

Saurabh Mahapatra is a young solar enthusiast from India who has reported on emerging solar power markets in several countries. On the Clean Technica website, he records that in  February’s union budget Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced that 7,000 railway stations will be fed with solar power as part of the Indian Railways’ mission to implement 1,000 megawatts of solar power capacity”.

Some readers also expressed an interest in ‘stand-alone, ‘off-grid’ solar generation and use in villages. In some places this was limited to solar lanterns in the home, some PV solar power generating electricity and solar street lighting.

A search revealed news of action in Dharnai, a small village of 2400 people. Located near Bodh Gaya in Bihar’s Jehanabad district, it didn’t have access to electricity. But a few years ago, with the help of Greenpeace, the villagers installed a solar-powered micro-grid, which provides 24×7 electricity to more than 450 households and 50 commercial establishments.

The village has since then been running a website ‘Dharnai Live motivating other villages and asking the government to adapt similar renewable methods; see We would like to know how this was funded.

In British and Indian cities however, traffic congestion is causing problems and damaging health. Leading medical authorities estimate that air pollution is a factor in a huge number of chronic ill-health and premature death.

There is growing interest in cleaner forms of transport, electric cars and hydrogen-fuelled buses, boats and now trains – see a hydrogen chronology on a sister website.

Today a reader sent news from the Railway Gazette that Alstom has completed the first tests of its Coradia iLint trainsets where hydrogen fuel cells replace the diesel powertrains used in a conventional Lint.

Throughout the rest of the year the iLint trains will undergo more rigorous testing at Salzgitter, up to the trains’ approved maximum speed of 140 km/h at the Velim test ring in the Czech Republic.

Alstom says it intends to support the use of wind power to produce hydrogen for fuel cell applications hydrogen production in future.

News on any hydrogen-related developments in India, or elsewhere, from the range of visitors to the site (left), would be welcomed.





India’s saviour – the sun?


The previous doom-laden post on this site reminded one reader of the title of a novel, ‘The Sun Is My Undoing’. The news in this post relates to  the harnessing of India’s solar resources for a clean energy future.

india goes solar goyal video

Speaking to NDTV in New York, India’s Power, Coal and Renewable Energy Minister Piyush Goyal referred to a World Trade Organization dispute settlement board which has ruled in favour of a US claim that India’s requirement that only Indian-made products be used for solar cells and modules were “inconsistent” with a range of international trade regulations. India has filed an appeal against the WTO decision.

In a videoed interview, which may be seen via the following link, the minister noted that no such action has been taken against the 16 states in the US with similar Domestic Content Requirements for their solar panels manufacturing, commenting “(It is) very unfortunate that they took this route rather than promoting renewable energy in developing countries”.

A far more cheering scenario

india goes solar header

Piyush Goyal also announced a new policy which will encourage further domestic manufacturing in India and reiterated full commitment to India becoming a leading solar equipment manufacturer in the near future and reiterated that the WTO ruling will not deter India’s support to domestic manufacturers.

india goes solar segolene royalHe and the French Environment Minister Segolene Royal (left) played a leading part in launching an International Solar Alliance after the signing ceremonies for the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The website of the Permanent Mission of India to the UN reports that India and France have launched programmes with $1 trillion potential to help developing countries harness fully their solar resources for a clean energy future to meet “probably the world’s largest challenge humanity has ever faced”. Ms Royal said: “I would like to emphasise the cooperation we have had with India, which is exceptional”.

The first two programmes, “Affordable finance at scale”; and “Scaling solar applications for agricultural use”, were launched at a meeting attended by representatives of over 25 countries including Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, Namibia, Uganda, Nigeria, Peru, Djibouti, Surinam, Zambia, Bolivia, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Mali, India, USA and France. Many have at least 300 days of sunshine, and share common challenges and opportunities.

The Times of India adds that Goyal said the harnessing of solar energy went beyond providing clean energy and dealing with climate change and was also about energy security. He explained the benefits of solar-rich nations collaborating through the ISA, providing benefits of scale leading to reduction in prices; promotion of collaborative R&D and wider deployment of solar technologies.

India’s solar power programme may not be greatly diminished by the WTO ruling

The Hindu republished a Reuters article reporting that last week, in a case brought by the U.S. government, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled against India’s national solar energy program.

canal top solar india

As power shortages grow in India, the country’s government plans to create 100,000 megawatts of energy from solar cells and modules and has included incentives to domestic manufacturers to use locally-developed equipment.

According to India’s Livemint e-paper, the WTO ruled that India had discriminated against American manufacturers by providing incentives, which violates WTO agreements. It reported that the WTO dispute settlement panel, in a confidential report to New Delhi and Washington, found India had also violated global trade rules by imposing local content requirements for solar cells and solar modules.

livemint 2 logoLivemint added, positively: “On Wednesday, Indian government officials maintained that the WTO reverse would not have an impact on the ambitious solar power programme, which is aimed at adding100,000MW of solar power by 2022. Only a small portion of the orders are to be channelled through the subsidy route.

sierra club logoAn official said on condition of anonymity, “Of the total 100,000MW planned, 40,000MW is rooftop with the balance being land-based projects. Local content requirement is only for those projects wherein the government provides a subsidy. This is 5,000MW each for rooftop and land-based projects”. Ilana Solomon (below), director of the Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program, commented:

“The WTO needs to get out of the business of hampering climate action in countries around the globe.

ilana solomon2“The outdated trade rules on the books now and under negotiation in trade pacts including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership encourage trade in fossil fuels and discourage countries from developing local clean energy capacity. These rules simply do not reflect the urgency of solving the climate crisis and stand in the way of clean energy growth”.

The Indian government is to appeal against the decision to the appellate body, the WTO’s highest court.


Solar energy in the 90s – 1:


carter road mangroves

In 1998, Energy & Lifestyles – a paper by Winin Pereira and Subhash Sule – was written in the Centre for Holistic Studies in Carter Road, Bandra, overlooking the mangroves that they and others worked so hard to save. Some extracts follow.

The sun delivers enough energy to the Earth in one year to meet mankind’s current consumption some 10,000 times over. The problem has always been how to trap and make use of this solar power.

The achievements of India in the field of renewable energy seem remarkable. Over 400,000 solar photovoltaic systems (producing about 28 MW) have so far been installed for commercial applications, home and street lighting, water pumping and rural telecommunication systems in remote areas. About 400,000 square metres of solar collector area have been installed, for domestic, commercial and industrial water heating. Nearly half a million box-type solar cookers are also in use.[Nishad, 1997] About 925 MW capacity of wind power is installed.[TERI Newswire, 1997]

In spite of all this, by the year 2012, only some 10% of the total installed power generating capacity in the country is likely to be based on renewables. [Nishad, 1997]

Winin Pereira3(Ed:World Energy Outlook 2012: Global Energy Trends (IEA, page 218), however, estimates renewables’ share of total generation in India by 2012 at 14%. Pereira, an accomplished physicist, also highlighted the polluting and energy intensive nature of solar PV technology in a way that few care to dwell on even today. He predicted that, over time, these adverse factors will gradually be addressed and minimised – see Mulvaney 2005 onwards: Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, author of ‘Towards a just and sustainable solar industry’: Hazardous Materials Used In Silicon PV Cell Production, which also touches on measures which are reducing energy use in the production process.)

In the fabrication of PV cells large amounts of energy are required for producing the basic very high purity silicon and for every further stage of PV cell manufacture. Because of the need for other non-renewable resources for the manufacture of voltage converters, their voltage inverters (DC to AC), and other infrastructure, they would add to an already resource-depleted and over-polluted world. [Pereira, 1992, p 22] It is quite possible that the total fossil energy consumed in the fabrication, installation and maintenance of the PV cells, as well as that of the required storage systems, will be high compared to their output during their limited lifetime.

While PV systems do not emit CO2 and other gaseous pollutants, the efficient types use cadmium sulphide and other chemicals as dopants of silicon, in their manufacture. Because these chemicals are highly toxic and persist in the environment for centuries, disposal of used cells could become a major environmental problem. However, the most promising cells in terms of low cost, mass production, and relatively high efficiency are those being manufactured using silicon, either crystalline or amorphous. These materials make the cells less expensive and environmentally safer than the heavy metal cells. [Pimentel et al., 1994] The PV industry uses the ‘below-specification’ silicon of the waste of the semiconductor industry to lower costs but this source is getting exhausted. If a dedicated manufacturing concern is now set up, a huge quantity of fossil fuels will need to be used and costs will rise.

Some of the latest materials being worked on in thin film cells – selenium, cadmium and titanium dioxide are highly toxic. At present the industry uses some very strong acids to chemically etch the surface of the solar cell to improve light entrapment. These materials, and their recycling, have to be handled carefully.

There is a proposal to build a huge PV installation in the Rajasthan desert. This could have unpredictable effects on the local microclimate. It would deprive large areas of sunlight, which could have disastrous effects on plant photosynthesis, causing a large loss of biomass, reducing the fodder and fuel production of the region. [De, 1997].

rajasthan solar projects mapped

The discredited Enron corporation, in partnership with Amoco, withdrew from its 50-MW solar PV project at Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, but many others proceeded – see the interactive map.

Next: Solar energy – 2: almost twenty years later


Solar energy – 2: almost twenty years later


pv tech logoIt is reported that India’s energy minister, Piyush Goyal, said that the current National Solar Mission target of 20GW by 2022 would be increased to 100GW – more on the PV Tech website.

Akhil Gupta, Akhil Handa & Mayank Rawat offer a few suggestions ‘to execute this grand vision’ in India’s Economic Times.

economic times india logo

One is to remove the perception that solar energy is expensive. At all times, solar is substituting for imported energy, which is far more expensive.

When a solar plant is commissioned, it will displace diesel for 70-80% of its
generation and imported coal for the rest.

India gets 70% more solar radiation than European countries. This means the same solar panels yield 70% more power in India. In addition, peak demand in India coincides for 70-80% of the 70-80% of the time during which solar energy is harnessed. This peak demand is mostly met by diesel, which costs almost double that of solar electricity, currently at Rs 6-7 per kWh.

sheep grazing solar bavaria                                                                      In Bavaria

Fortunately, solar power requires far fewer clearances than for coal and doesn’t require contiguous land. Fears about alienation of fertile land now appear to be minimal, crops are grown and animals appear to graze quite happily near solar panels and wind turbines.

cultivation india near wind turbines                                                  In Dhule Maharashtra

However if man-made security risks arise – disruption of the power supply – they could lead to protection of and limited access to these sites.

As Pereira noted, the sun delivers enough energy to the Earth in one year to meet mankind’s current consumption some 10,000 times over. The problem has always been how to trap and make use of this solar power . . . we miss the thoughtful response he would have made to these reports of progress.