Friday, June 26, 2009

Riots in Delhi Caused by Lack of Electricity

This past week, there have been riots in parts of Delhi for two reasons - lack of electricity and lack of water. This is becoming serious. The worst power cuts were in Dwarka averaging 10-12 hour outages at a time, Krishna Nagar at 10 hours, Vasant Kunj at 8 hours and Greater Kailash, averaging 5-6 hours. No part of the city has been spared. On Thursday, the 400 KV Mandola Power station tripped and went off-line, along with one unit in the Singrauli plant affecting large parts of the city. The highest demand for electrical power was this past Friday at 4,171 MW, while the region can only provide around 3,500 MW on a good day.

The reason? The monsoon is late. Much of the power here is hydroelectric. Without rain in the hills, the hydroelectric plants can't generate power. The power ministry has stated that there has been a 12% decline in generation leading to an overall 25% shortage. [As I've said before, infrastructure here isn't planned for growth. Well, infrastructure here isn't planned. Period.] Water is so precious that people are hoarding it. A 34 year-old man was killed in a fight over water earlier this week. We keep buckets of the stuff in our baths so we have water when the tanks on the roof empty. Food prices have risen because crop yields are down. With system failure, traffic lights don't work (not that anyone follows them anyway) causing massive traffic jams. Earlier this week, riots broke out in the Ambedkar Nagar, Govindpuri, Kondli, and Rajbir Nagar sections of Delhi. We need an alternative. A sustainable and affordable alternative.

VVDN is a company coming up with exciting new alternative energy products. The three light system they installed at my house last month has been working steadily and dependably with no decrease in brightness and no outages. The LED bulbs did blink one evening, but Parveen at VVDN said that it was because there was little charge left in the battery. Overall, the system is quite successful.

I met with Parveen because I'm totally sick of the lack of electricity and I need to at least keep one room cool by fan or AC, running a TV, cable box, computer, and wireless hub for at least four hours. Our existing inverter/battery system hasn't been keeping a charge for more than an hour or so. Parveen said to check the water levels in the batteries because in this heat, the water dries up and the chemicals in the batteries turn into a gas. [Note to self: check batteries regularly.]

He recommended a standard 540W solar-powered system that would run 3-4 fans and 4-5 lights (8-10 hours of backup by solar charging). The cost of this system is around US$ 3,000 with replacement batteries every 3-4 years; they cost around $350. The panels have a 20 year warranty. He said that the panels and batteries can be purchased from the market any time but the main charge controller unit that I want (hybrid unit) is not available commercially at this time. You see, I want a system that integrates both the grid when it's available AND solar power to maximize the charge in the batteries. I want the solar power to be the main provider of charge with the grid only being pulled when there is still capacity available in the battery array. There is nothing on the market right now, but Parveen shared with me that there is technology in the R&D stage that is exactly what I want.

One of the companies he's working with has such a system and he says it is very stable. One of the features is the fancy new controller, which can be configured to favor one source over the other. They are at the stage where they need to do field trials and I volunteered. He will be discussing it with the people running the trials and get back to me next week.

Let's look at the financials. This system retails for 1.5 lakh (150,000 rupees). I pay between 3,000 (winter) and 9,000 (summer) rupees per month for electricity, averaging around 5,000 per month. Payback on this sytem is 30 months, assuming no grid usage. Even if payback takes twice as long, with panel life at 20 years and battery replacement every 3, it's still an incredibly viable option. Plus in India, subsidies for solar systems can be up to 70%, so, to me it seems practically criminal to be relying on an unreliable grid when these systems are so readily available.

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