Five Secrets About Solar & Wind Power You Should Know

Highlights :

  • Solar and wind power projects rarely suffer from cost overruns, have fixed costs, are more resilient and reliable, have lower operation and maintenance costs, and have reduced environmental impacts

As Solar and wind are becoming increasingly popular sources of renewable energy, detractors love to point to limitations like intermittency, efficiency as drawbacks. However, even as these drawbacks are being covered with the drop in storage costs and ever higher efficiencies for both these options, many people may not be aware of the reason solar and wind became popular in the first place. Yes, they offer emission free energy when installed, but they have several other advantages over conventional energy like thermal, or even comparable ‘renewable’ options like nuclear and Hydro that are well worth considering.  Today, not only are these options way more cost effective on a per MW basis, but they offer benefits to planners that other options increasingly struggle to match. We list down 5 of the key ones. Which one had you overlooked?

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#1 Do Not Suffer From Cost Overruns

Unlike Hydro, Nuclear or even Thermal Power, Solar and Wind power projects rarely, if ever, suffer from cost overruns. Energy projects are infamous for suffering many a time from cost overruns that leads to huge loss to the exchequer. The complex nature of large-scale energy projects, unpredictable factors and regulatory compliance, inefficiencies in project management, and cost of financing can lead to cost overruns in hydro, nuclear, or thermal power projects.

For instance, as per one report by the Standing Committee on Energy in India, 12 out of 13 hydro projects and 30 out of 34 thermal projects were delayed in execution summing up to gigantic monetary and time losses. The delay of 12 hydro projects led to a cumulative time overrun of over 100 years, and a cost overrun of Rs 31,530 crore. Similarly, delay in thermal projects led to a cumulative time overrun of 148 years, and a cost overrun of Rs 41,100 crore. The major reasons behind them. This isn’t the case with solar and wind projects.

The same report suggests that only one out of 26 renewable projects was delayed in execution. The relative simplicity of the technology, predictable costs, lower installation costs, shorter construction timelines, and reduced regulatory complexity make solar and wind energy projects less prone to cost overruns compared to hydro, nuclear, or thermal power projects.

#2 Fixed Costs Compared to Other Options

In the case of solar and wind energy, the power selling costs are fixed, unlike hydro, nuclear, or thermal power, where generators can pass on cost increases to consumers by law. This is mostly because the cost of generating solar and wind energy is mostly tied to the initial cost of equipment such as solar panels and wind turbines. These costs are usually agreed upon and locked in at the time of project financing. Thus, the cost overruns are not passed on to the consumers as that happens in the case of hydro, nuclear, or thermal power projects.

We saw recently how the surge in coal and gas costs were quickly passed on to consumers, failing which, many of the gas based plants were even idled due to lack of takers. That’s not a p[roblem you are going to face with solar or wind.

#3 Resilience and Reliability

Another advantage of solar and wind energy projects is that they are more resilient and reliable compared to hydro, nuclear, or thermal power projects. Large solar or wind farms do not go down completely when one or even 10 per cent of the farm experiences a failure, unlike the other options. For example, in 2019, the Rewa Solar Power Project experienced a partial component failure, with several solar panels failing due to the onslaught of monsoon and severe weather. Despite the event affecting the power supply due to partial component failure, the remaining panels continued to produce energy as the power generation got reduced to 92.5 MW from 250 MW unit-III at the Rewa Ultra Mega Solar Limited (RUMS), demonstrating the resilience of the project against partial component failures.

In the case of hydro, nuclear, or thermal power plants, a single failure in the equipment or infrastructure can result in a complete shutdown of the plant, causing significant disruptions to the energy supply.

#4 Lower O&M Costs

The operation and maintenance (O&M) costs of different sources of energy vary. However, in general, wind and solar projects have lower O&M costs compared to hydro, thermal, and nuclear power projects. As per the IRENA report “Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2021”, solar and wind energy projects saw a considerable fall in their operations and maintenance (O&M) costs.

The O&M cost for onshore wind was above USD 33/kW per year in Denmark to USD 56/kW per year in Germany – a country known for having higher than average onshore wind O&M costs. Similarly, solar projects in the IRENA Renewable Cost Database had a capacity-weighted average utility-scale O&M cost of USD 14.1/kW per year (a decline of 48 per cent from 2010).

Comparatively, for large-scale hydropower projects (IPCC, 2011), O&M costs are up to USD 60/kW/year for an average project in the IRENA Renewable Cost Database. For small-scale hydro projects, the costs are even higher. The O&M costs for nuclear power projects in India are not publicly available, but they are generally considered to be higher than those of other sources of energy.

#5 Reduced Environmental Impacts

It is well-known that solar and wind energy projects have a significant environmental advantage over thermal power plants, which are typically powered by fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and oil, and lead to the emission of large amounts of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.

Some studies argue that solar power produces lifetime emissions of around 21 g CO2 eq / kWh. Compared to this, many coal power plants produce over 1,000 g CO2 eq / kWh, and even the “cleanest” coal power is generally above 700 g CO2 eq / kWh. Thus it is safe to say, in the past two decades that accelerated renewable adoption, no other power source has reduced impact on the environment as solar and wind have.

They are also less destructive to the environment compared to hydro projects. The recent example puts light on this front. The Joshimath sinking, which led to the evacuation of hundreds of people, is also related to NTPC’s Tapovan Vishnugad hydroelectric power project by many experts. Geologists suggest that NTPC’s tunnel for the Tapovan-Vishnugad hydroelectric power project is responsible for the sinking. A study by geologists Dr MPS Bisht and Piyoosh Rautela states that despite being fully aware of the geological vulnerability of the area, several hydroelectric projects have been sanctioned around Joshimath.

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Junaid Shah

Junaid holds a Master of Engineering degree in Construction & Management. Being a civil engineering postgraduate and using his technical prowess, he has channeled his passion for writing in the environmental niche.