Molten Salt Tower echnology for India
Energy Future|January - March 2021
Power generation is the backbone of India’s solar sector. Sheela K Ramasesha highlights the merits of considering the solar molten salt tower technology in the country’s power mix to achieve a quicker and more efficient way of power production.
Sheela K Ramasesha

Introduction

India is a country which is blessed with abundant sunshine throughout the year. It is important to harness this solar energy to meet the power requirements of the country. Though currently, 79% of power production is being fulfilled through coal-fired thermal plants, the plan is to increase the power generation from renewable resources up to 21% by 2021–2022. In the solar sector, large photovoltaic parks are being set up all around the country. India can consider the newer solar molten salt tower technology (MST) in its power mix as it can provide power when required irrespective of the time of the day. As a result, the power generation can be ramped up quickly and efficiently. MST can be installed in locations where the direct normal irradiance is high. Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, and Rajasthan are some of the locations where such favourable conditions exist. All the components required for MST, unlike the photovoltaics, can be manufactured in India in accordance with ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ and ‘Make in India’ initiatives.

During the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21 held in Paris), India pledged a reduction in CO2 emissions intensity of GDP by 33–35% by 2030, compared to the 2005 level. After USA and China, India is the third highest CO2-emitting country, though the per capita emissions are one of the lowest in the world. About 40–50% of the CO2 emissions come from the power generation sector. To reduce the emissions, it is imperative that India opts for renewable energy sources where, during power generation, there is no or minimum CO2 emissions.

India, in its mission to reduce its emissions, has set a target of installing 175 GW of renewable energy generation capacity by 2022. Out of the 175 GW, 100 GW is solar, 60 GW is wind, and the remaining 15 GW includes other renewables such as biomass and small hydro resources. As of February 2020, the solar installations were up to 32 GW and the country is well poised to meet its target by 2022 according to a written statement tabled in Parliament by the minister of state for the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and Power (MNRE 2019).

Most of the solar installations for power generation have been predominantly silicon-based photovoltaic (PV) panels with some thin-film PV panels. The main advantage of this technology is that it is easy to install and is reliable. This is an easy and effective way to generate power without emissions and it helps in the mission to meet the target of green power generation. However, there are several drawbacks to this technology that cannot be ignored. The critical ones are listed as follows:

» Manufacturing of panels: In India, very few companies are just beginning to grow silicon wafers–the heart of the PV–to make panels. Even the companies that manufacture panels import the boron-doped silicon wafers and incorporate phosphorus to create a p-n junction. Later, these wafers are assembled into panels. Thus, most of the PV panels that are being installed around the country are imported and the complete technology to make PV panels from scratch is not yet in place. The entire solar PV installation industry is heavily dependent on either the imported silicon wafers or the complete panel assembly. During April–December (FY20), according to the Power Ministry, the import of solar cells stood at US$ 1525.8 million (roughly ₹11,443.5 crore at $ = ₹75) (ETEnergyWorld 2020).

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