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www.expresscomputeronline.com WEEKLY INSIGHT FOR TECHNOLOGY PROFESSIONALS
18 October 2010  
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Home - Trend - Article

Solar Hybrid UPS

This type of UPS is both cost-effective and easy to install. It is also one of the ways in which a company can go about adopting green technologies. By Manjari Juneja

In view of the huge demand supply gap in the Indian power sector, large scale use of solar energy is imperative, especially given the abundant sunshine available all over the country throughout the year. There is an opportunity, which is being created due to the gross failure of the Indian power generation system. That opportunity is what a lot of power equipment manufacturers are banking on.

After the National Solar mission was launched last year under the National Action Plan on Climate change, wherein the target is to achieve about 20 gigawatts of solar power by 2022, the concept of a solar hybrid UPS has taken off. A solar hybrid system is basically a battery-based UPS, which apart from taking in AC power, can also take power from solar panels, DC power, and finally output AC.

Solar hybrid technology is a green technology that enterprises can employ. Most IT companies have a green mandate from their corporate body to source at least some percentage of their energy through green means.

Ganesh Ramamoorthy, Principal Research Analyst, Gartner, said, “Solar hybrid technology involves the supplementary combination of AC as well as DC. It has a direct implication for UPS applications. The power output from any solar system is DC, so it makes sense to have a supplementary solar module which gives you DC and then that DC can be converted into AC using the same equipment. The idea is to bring in solar technology with the current UPS that you have and then providing the supplementary/ auxiliary power unit that you want.”

In the context of solar hybrid UPS, the government is offering Rs. 19 per watt in the form of subsidy. It is also giving soft loans for the balance amount. A person who goes for a 1,000 watt (1KW) solar hybrid UPS along with a battery will get Rs. 19 per watt as subsidy. Also, on the remaining amount, he will get a soft loan with a reduced interest rate, which is around 4-5%. It is making customers look at it as a superior alternative.

How it works

Solar UPS have chargers that make appropriate use of solar panels. These can be used for all types of loads and can be availed at nominal prices.

A Solar UPS is designed keeping in view the specific requirements of generating AC mains power from the solar photovoltaic panels arranged in series and parallel combinations to get the desired output at the desired current capacity. The UPS is not directly connected to the panels. The panel modules, so arranged, charge the batteries during the daytime and the UPS will derive the power for inversion from batteries charged in this manner. The unit is designed to operate as a standalone source of power and in no way does the mains utility from the electric company come into the picture. The UPS has no changeover scheme as it is on whenever needed, irrespective of the time of the day.

The unit basically consists of two parts—a charge controller and inverter. The charge controller is required primarily to prevent overcharging of batteries. An additional LVD circuit is incorporated when a moderate DC load is to be controlled. In a Solar UPS, it is used to prevent overcharging of batteries, reverse connection of battery and reverse flow of current during the night. LVD action is carried out in the inverter circuitry. Batteries are always operated in their safe window of permissible high and low limits of terminal voltage.

An inverter is required to convert the DC voltage of a battery to the required AC power. The net power output of these solar hybrid systems is 5-10 KV.

Solar power products
These can be categorized into three varieties:
Solar charger It is used to charge the battery and give the power to 24V or 48V telecom equipment. The output is DC
Hybrid system Where the input power is either solar or normal AC, which feeds the battery as well as the load. When the AC input power is unavailable and the battery starts discharging, solar input power comes to the rescue
Grid connected inverter The government is subsidizing solar power-based products and it is offering approximately Rs. 19 per unit of solar power generated through this technology

Market opportunity

"The market for Solar Hybrid UPS is in bits and pockets. For SMBs or very small industrial units, power supply is a huge concern and the usage of UPS is high. Solar hybrid UPS is relevant for these markets in India"

- Ganesh Ramamoorthy,
Principal Research Analyst, Gartner

"After the central government came out with a policy and introduced incentives, the solar hybrid UPS market has picked up. The government has subsidized this product and it is also giving lots of incentives"

- Venkat Rao,
Country Manager, Medium and Large
UPS systems, Emerson Network Power

Global demand for solar energy is expected to grow over 80% in 2010 and, in India, it is likely to grow fivefold to 150 MW. In the longer term, the Indian market is poised to become a world-scale market by 2022, stimulated by the supportive policies announced by the Government of India.

The solar power market is growing at a healthy trend of about 20% in India. The overall power industry is pegged at $500 million of which 10 MW is the capacity expected to be generated by solar hybrid systems.

Venkat Rao, Country Manager, Medium and Large UPS, Emerson Network Power, said, “After the central government came out with a policy and introduced incentives, the solar hybrid UPS market has picked up. Earlier, it was dormant and only a few organizations or the government used to go for it, owing to the cost. However, now, the government has subsidized this product and it is also giving lots of incentives, which is why people are looking at it quite seriously.”

According to Gartner, the market for Solar Hybrid UPS is in bits and pockets. It is in demand in areas where load shedding is frequent and power outages are common. For SMBs or very small industrial units, power supply is a huge concern and the usage of UPS is high. Solar hybrid UPS is relevant for these markets in India.

Region-specific growth would vary in India. On an average, across India, the growth would be between 30-35% depending on the state.

Where the power problem is acute, the growth rate in those regions could be higher than this average.

Benefits of this technology

As the source of energy is light and the panel life is approximately 20 years, it is a win-win situation to go in for solar hybrid UPS. The OPEX is literally zero when it comes to these devices although the initial investment is high. Nevertheless, you can reap the benefits for the next 20 years.

Conventional systems are dependent on AC input power and the cost amounts to the total electricity consumed from the pole for which you have to pay. In hybrid systems, during the day, the system relies on solar energy and it does not consume AC power, which makes it a zero cost system except for the initial investment, which is why people are going in for this technology.

Applications such as rural electrification, rural banking, rural industries, offload platform requirement, domestic requirements etc. are driving the growth of this category.

Challenges

Challenges for this market include a high cost of generation. CAPEX is usually two to three times that of conventional methods.

The other major cost is with regard to the acquisition of photovoltaic panels. Reduction in the cost of these panels will be key to the overall adoption of solar power-based products.

Efficiency of the panels is another issue. Till now the efficiency of the panel ranges from 12-18%. This must go up and it may take time as this technology is still evolving.

“Also, the area required for these panels is too huge. You can't keep solar panels just anywhere. It should be south facing and a number of other considerations need to be kept in mind. To generate one MW of solar energy, the power panels require five acres of land,” added Rao.

For manufacturers, the biggest challenge would be to see how much energy is going to be generated from a unit and how to push these units in the consumer segment. They will also have to figure out how to enhance battery capacity.

Future of coexistence

Solar UPS technology will not replace existing UPS. Rather, it will coexist with conventional systems as the total need for these cannot be fulfilled by solar hybrid systems. The key to mass adoption is going to be cost reduction, which will not happen without achieving large-scale supply.

Recently, the nuclear liability bill was also passed. This means that, after some years, we will see nuclear power coming into the picture. With nuclear power stations installed in India, it will fill in the power demand and supply gap. As and when the power generation system in India gets better, the market for UPS will diminish.

manjari.juneja@expressindia.com

 


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