Solar Power from the Rajasthani desert

Northern Rajasthan is quickly becoming a hub for solar energy in India. The 15th October was the deadline for some of the first major projects of 5 Megawatt capacity each and most plants are now feeding into the electricity grid. The capacity under construction in Rajasthan will put the states solar capacity at over 500 Megawatt by the middle of 2013 and more is in the planning stage. Most of this is under the National Solar Mission although the state has its own plan for a further 550 Megawatts. Solar power is non-polluting and fully renewable. It does however take up large land-areas (between 2 and 5 hectares per Megawatt) and solar thermal technology needs water for cooling – a resource that is already scarce in Rajasthan. For Rajasthan's sake it will be important to go for the technology that minimizes impact – using less space-consuming technologies such as Crystalline modules instead of Thin-film and Dry (air) cooling for Concentrated Solar Thermal plants instead of wet-cooling. At the same time many small farm-houses and villages close to the plants have not been electrified and those that have been get power only 2-4 hours per day. Through the Remote Village electrification scheme solar lightning systems are being given to some of these farm-houses but many still remain to be lit up. Another project is also on-going to create solar powered IT-centres for Gram Panchayat Bhawans to aid administration of health-care, education and to create small banking centres. The system consists of a 1.1 kW solar module, a battery pack, 5 computers and a printer. When visited in mid-October modules and batteries were in place but computers had not been delivered.