Monday, November 5, 2012

Tamil Nadu colleges all set to tap solar energy

CHENNAI: From powering street lamps in colleges and water heating systems in hostels to lights and fans in classrooms, solar energy is the new kid on campus in Tamil Nadu. 

In its solar policy, the state government imposes a solar purchase obligation (SPO) on colleges, mandating them to meet 6% of their power usage from solar energy, and colleges are getting down to business. 

Going by the policy, commercial establishments, colleges, government buildings, residential schools, IT parks, industries, and buildings with a built-up area of 20,000sqm come under this obligation. They can meet this by generating their own power, purchasing solar power from the state electricity board, or purchasing power from private power producers. 

"Colleges have vast expanses of land to put up solar panels. They are eligible for tax benefits. It also helps to avoid technical problems relating to transmission of power from plants to the college," said Vineeth Vijayaraghavan, an industry expert . 

Vellore-based VIT University is going beyond the 6% obligation and is planning to source solar power for 30% of its needs. The college currently uses diesel gensets for 30% of its needs and is looking to replace this with wind and solar energy. "We have a four-acre lake inside our campus and will be putting up photovoltaic modules over the lake for 2MW, replicating Gujarat's set up over the Narmada River," said founder and chancellor of VIT University G Viswanathan. The college will also have an in-house 3MW solar power plant and is negotiating with a few companies to set up the plants. 

Apart from setting up roof-top systems, Chennai-based Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering(SVCE) is planning to tap solar energy for street lighting on campus. "We had done a pilot project earlier and will expand this to other areas in phases," said college principal M Sivanandham. The college is planning to invest about Rs 7 lakh in the first phase. 

Captive consumption saves colleges from wasting power, and thereby, funds. "Setting up an off-grid roof-top system in the college will save about 8% of the power they buy from the grid. The power generated can be used for captive consumption and energy isn't wasted. Even during holidays when power usage is low, the mandated 6% will be required for basic activities in the college and the college can use its own power," an expert said. 

On the educational side, colleges will benefit as students will learn about solar energy. "Several PG students work on simulated solar projects using fictional data for their research. Having roof-top systems gives students the opportunity to work on real-time projects," Vijayaraghavan said. At SVCE, for instance, the solar street lighting project was done by students of electrical engineering, and the college will get students of other departments to work on such projects, Sivanandham said.

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