A lot has been said and debated about the potential of solar power, but is any of that transpiring on the real ground so far? What if we use lightning to power up our skyline in a new way?
Coming back home after work on a hot summer night, the heat that envelopes you in and out of the house can be quite annoying. To top this irritation, now there is a phone that won’t stop sending notifications of some cliche wedding while it simultaneously alerts you about a ‘low battery’. You turn on the AC in your living room and then of your bedroom before you hop right into a much-needed shower. Your love for your hair won’t let you get out of your dressing room without blow-drying that mop into a stylish curl. All coiffed and scrubbed, you step into your now-cold-bedroom, and take a sigh of relief. You turn on some fancy lights all around your house and then traipse to the kitchen to warm your dinner. As soon as you’re about to take in that first bite though, the light goes off leaving you with that scream “WHAT THE HELL”! Yes, we are quick to curse about it. After all, it is energy and we can’t live without it even for an hour. Yes, unabashedly and, unapologetically, we exploit it every minute.
Alternative Power – Beaming hope?
Humans resorted to answers that could give any alternative that did not entail being frugal with energy usage. That was never easy or desired by most of the mankind. So we got curious, excited and complacent about the word ‘alternative energy’. Soon bio-mass energy, wind power and solar power gave us hope and complacence. The next big pool of energy was just around the corner.
With the establishment of the world’s first ever hydroelectric power plant on September 30, 1882 which came to India in later in 1902, water also gave us more room to exploit current sources of energy in the vain hope that we have something to fall back on. Wind power is getting into the spotlight too as the price and accessibility of fossil fuels making them increasingly prohibitive for energy production. Yet, different sources of energy had different side-effects. For many, one fine source of energy with an unlimited supply and better amenability was the sun.
The key to a clean energy future for many experts is solar power. The reasons are not so hard to guess. The sun gives off far more energy than we need to power everything on earth, everyday. This energy of heat and light supports all life on Earth already; and drives the Earth’s climate and weather. It happens to be predominately-responsible for a class of resources collectively known as renewable energy. The diversity of form and a long history of solar energy make it very fruitful in a wide variety of applications.
Not just that, many technologies have come up and some have changed their way of functioning using solar energy because of its countless benefits. Luckily, we Indians also have an upper hand on this because of the theory of latitudes and having equator in our favour. Little wonder then that we started investing heavily in solar plants.
Clouds that straggle
In 2017-18, the solar consultancy ‘Bridge to India’ indicated that India’s utility solar capacity grew 72 per cent and installed 9.1 GW of solar against 5.5GW in 2016-17. However, studies have estimated that capacity-addition will be lower in 2018-19 and so will be the growth in rooftop-solar areas due to GST and safeguards around uncertainty.
This draws our attention to the fact that even when the raw material, i.e., sunlight is almost-free of cost, financial problems do arise. Plus, a question that still lingers. Would a large chunk of our population ever be able to get the benefits of this solar power? Will they crawl above the poverty line if they are told or advised to install solar panels at their houses and maximise the use of solar cells?
The Bolts of Possibility
Looking from a business perspective, introduction of a new and similar source of power or generating energy from a similar source (natural) can bring down the rates of the solar set-ups. Another convenient way to make these people tap the benefits of solar panels is by eking out attention and obligation of political parties and bureaucratic infrastructure. Taking help from the income-tax officer, banker and ecologist – there is so much we can do by drilling into the money that is meant for right investment. We can use all those tax and for GDP coffers for building a future. We can also look at ways to encourage competition in the realm of solar power system and equipments.
Possibilities exist if only there is enough human will.
Remember the madman genius Dr. Nikola Tesla quipped about using the electricity in the air during thunderstorms to power his hairdryer! The greatest living authority on alternating currents of high and low frequency indeed performed experiments around high potential, high frequency currents.
The earth’s surface receives about 100 lightning bolts of lightning every second which is about 8 million per day and 3 billion each year and on April 26, 2018, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, Andhra Pradesh experienced an electrifying night after officials, reportedly, recorded 36,749 lightning strikes in a span of just 13 hours. Can we not design an incredibly large battery (or capacitor) that can charge up instantly when the lightning strikes? It can then slowly and steadily let out the bottled-up power when needed.
Such devices with these capabilities are definitely difficult to produce and rudimentary when it comes to efficiency. Physics tells that it’s almost impossible to store and retrieve this energy with 100 per cent efficiency. Moreover, we lose a majority of the energy we are converting in nearly every process that the whole cycle entails. That leaves us with new questions to fiddle with:
1. We need efficient means for converting acoustic energy or the thunder to electric power
2. The low power density challenges for placement of the generator
3. The incidence of thunder can be too erratic and rare in most places
But then, lightning and thunder are not just about the sparks but about the sound too. We may explore ways to leverage sound waves if possible.
That’s where we are. The millennials are full of what-ifs and curiosity right now. Who knows that the things we get fascinated and depressed about now are the very things that our future generations will file patents on! Getting overwhelmed about these alternative energy methods is great but until these words on paper come to reality, we must be the responsible citizens we have to,
Dissing a power-cut is not the answer right now. Switching of unnecessary bulbs and devices is. The next time you walk home after a hot day, think about heat with a new perspective.
By Hridaya Khatri