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A comprehensive modelling-based forecast of India’s solar and wind power generation potential in medium and high emissions climate change scenarios indicates a fall in overall sun power over the landmass, and altered wind patterns that favour central and southeastern States including Tamil Nadu.

The key pointers from a paper published by researchers T.S. Anandh, Deepak Gopalakrishnan and Parthasarathi Mukhopadhyay in Current Science in June 2022 are: most of the Indian landmass is expected to experience a decrease in solar potential in the near future, and the potential for wind is more promising in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu.

These projections are based on climate scenarios used in the United Nations system, for high and medium emissions of greenhouse gases, in the IPCC system (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). They are also evaluated for seasonal variations – winter, pre-monsoon, monsoon and post-monsoon periods, using a five-decade time frame.

The projections for both wind and solar compare historical simulations for 55 years to future models. Since the same methodology is used for both historical and future estimates, any error in the formulation would theoretically get cancelled. The findings dwell on data plots that are of significance.

Most of the Indian landmass is expected to experience a decrease in solar potential in the near future, and the potential for wind is more promising in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu.

“During most seasons, there is an increase in wind speed along southeastern India, whereas the Gangetic plains show a decrease in wind speed compared to historical simulations,” the researchers say. Also, the southern and northwestern regions would have higher wind speed in the winter and monsoon months, when the wind potential is at its maximum.

In the case of solar energy, the team found that “except for pre-monsoon months, northwestern India, where the maximum number of solar farms are located, showed reduced future projections of solar radiation throughout the year. The only regions which showed an increase in future solar projections were Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.”

(Photo credit: Solar Array by Optimal Power- Flickr)

The exercise seeks to help policymakers plan ahead, placing wind and solar infrastructure in areas which are likely to gain the most in the era of climate change. On solar power, Dr. Mukhopadhyay and his colleagues write that future investments would be best placed in central and south-central India to exploit the pre-monsoon months, “as the potential loss is minimum in these regions.”

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Significant results
Speaking to Inmathi, Dr. Mukhopadhyay, who is a scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, said, “This is a large-scale analysis, not for smaller regions at the level of, say, districts. Moreover, this is a likelihood scenario, and not meant to create a scare. When big investments are taking place, when there is a possibility of change, this is the time for all stakeholders, including the private sector, to invest in Research and Development to improve efficiency of solar cells, wind generation equipment and so on.” Using such simulated models and robust results would remove the element of surprise due to climate change, affecting costly investments.

How change occurs
Wind generation is not linear, since at lower levels, such as five metres per second, it does not generate power, while at 14 metres per second, it reaches saturation. The scientists identify some regions where there is possible enhancement of the potential, providing a possible lead.

Cloud cover over the sub-continent has an impact on the level of usable radiation. On this, regional analysis of solar potential shows a likely negative shift in the frequency of solar radiation. This implies that solar energy production would decrease in the immediate future. This could be attributed to an increase in total cloud cover.

The funding requirement estimated to reach the national goal of 450 Gigawatts of renewable power capacity by 2030 is $30 billion to $40 billion every year

Asked about the presence of atmospheric brown clouds caused by natural factors and pollution in the sub-continent, Dr. Mukhopadhyay said the presence of aerosols would certainly increase cloud life, affecting the level of solar radiation received in the landmass. This was a way of linking it with the larger picture of climate change.

The scientists used climate models that formed part of the IPCC Assessment Reports. These models are the Coordinated Regional Climate Downscaling Experiment (CORDEX) and Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 (CMIP5) and phase 6 (CMIP6) which are used to derive climatic projections for various areas of the planet.

According to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), India’s renewable energy sector recorded $14.5 billion investment in 2021-22, up 125% over the previous year. The funding requirement estimated to reach the national goal of 450 Gigawatts of renewable power capacity by 2030 is $30 billion to $40 billion every year.


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