Water Scarcity Driving Smarter Solutions in Solar Projects

MANISH DAS, Co-Founder & Director, Skilancer Solar

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India is a country that is developing rapidly and with this growth comes an increasing demand for water. Although India is well endowed with strong natural river systems, water scarcity is becoming a serious issue in the country. With higher demand for electricity, traditional sources of energy have become a liability not just due to pollution but also because of heavy water consumption by the industries using or generating them. Rapid industrialization and concentration of business units in water-stressed areas gives rise to growing risks like water scarcity, rising costs and environmental degradation, etc.

Water crisis is causing problems worldwide more so in the times of the coronavirus pandemic when keeping washed hands and cleanliness is one important precaution to keep the deadly virus at bay. Ironically, water is not available, as per the needs, in a large part of the country not just for people but also for industries. According to a report, 60% percent of the water used in the solar sector for cleaning of solar modules is groundwater through borewells while the remaining 40 percent comes from surface water sources such as rivers, canals and lakes. According to SEIA, on an average, all solar power technologies use almost 20 gallons per megawatt hour of water for cleaning solar collection and reflection surfaces. Groundwater is preferred by the industry as it is almost free and is operationally expedient. The report further states, while it requires specific regulatory permissions, there are various reports of illegal extraction. If surface water is used, the procurement responsibility is generally outsourced to a local vendor who supplies water through tankers.

In terms of solar panels they need to be cleaned regularly, as soiling can happen due to accumulation of dust, dirt, pollution, bird-droppings etc. The water scarcity can be dealt with by providing smarter and handy solutions to these solar modules and projects and it would also help them from a lot of trouble of getting water regularly as generally these solar projects are based in dry areas due to easier availability of land as well as more sunshine days.

There are technological solutions to manage this risk. The main options include: waterless cleaning robots for solar panels. These technologies are now technically and commercially proven. They can help not only in reducing water use but also in increasing power generation output. They can also reduce the cost of cleaning, which primarily depends on the cost of water and labour. Higher costs are observed in the dry states of Rajasthan and Gujarat as these are arid regions.

Using water in these regions can also defeat the very purpose of using renewable energies at times. Technologies like AI and deeptech are solving these problems for us today We tend to forget the fact that clean water is also a natural resource just like fossil fuels on which we cannot depend for a very long period of time. By the use of water the ecosystem of 100% green energy cannot be achieved. We need to adopt non conventional tools and measures to make renewable energy more sustainable for the future. As the issue of water scarcity and solar energy are linked, the right intervention by the government and leading industries can help create more opportunities for the growth and development of solar energy led industries in India, leading to a much required solar revolution in the country.

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