Solar-Powered Generators: Reduce Pollution And Downtime

By Paromik CHakraborty

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Solar-powered generators are noiseless, environment-safe and can bring down the usage of exhaustible fuels drastically.

Offices, factories, residential complexes and critical units (like hospitals and data centres), among others, in India require backup power generators. These are needed to fight the inconsistent supply of electricity that threatens to thwart essential operations. Generators mainly run on fossil fuels such as diesel or petrol. These emit huge amounts of smoke, heat and sound. This has caused much harm to the environment, and led to various restrictions being enforced on the use of generators in major cities.

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Solar energy, in the form of solar-powered generators, can come to aid in this hour of need. These devices can drastically bring down the usage of fuels as well as the carbon emission rate. In addition, there are many long-term financial benefits.

Advantages of green generators

Worsening environmental conditions are attributed to excessive carbon and greenhouse gases emissions, pollutant particulate matters (PM 2.5 and PM 10) and other harmful elements being added to the air. A large part of this is produced by diesel generator sets, as is evident from a recent report by Centre for Science and Environment.

The report reveals that a city like Gurugram is facing a spike of at least 30 per cent in air pollution caused by diesel generator sets. PM 2.5 and PM 10 level readings have increased variably between 30 and 100 per cent.

Results are similar in other regions, too. The government is now pushing Indian consumers to install solar solutions to leverage India’s abundant sunlight availability. Solar-powered generator sets is one such useful solution.

Arvind Patel, executive director, Divya Hitech Solar, says, “Most traditional generators are very noisy. These run completely on diesel (or petrol), consuming exhaustible resources.
“Green generators are noiseless. These cut off the dependence on exhaustive fuels, utilising renewable energy instead. These also avoid environmental pollution caused by diesel generator sets.

“Properly-designed solar generators can run 24/7. These can store sunlight energy through the day, while quick charging lithium-ion batteries through grid electricity at night whenever the charge falls below 50 per cent. Overall, these generators can bring the cost down by 50 to 95 per cent, considering expenses on fuel, electricity and maintenance.”

Many solar generators are portable and feature plug-and-play characteristics. This means these can be set up on wheels and installed anywhere suitable. These generators start functioning almost instantly after setup.

The setup for Solar-Powered Generators

Solar-powered generators function through a number of units. To start, solar panels of desired capacity are positioned and connected to a battery. Lithium-ion batteries are currently the most preferred choice in the market for their various advantages, even though these are costlier than the others (like lead-acid batteries).

The battery unit is charged by the energy created by the solar panels by capturing sunlight.

A charge controller is connected to the battery unit to optimise storage. An inverter converts direct current (DC) supplied from the battery storage unit into alternating current (AC) to power appliances. A fuel tank is accommodated as backup in case the battery fails to operate.

Most solar generators allow customisations. Solar panels, battery capacities, inverters and more can be modified as per requirement.

Cost and returns

Solar-powered generators are expensive in terms of upfront investment. These may cost about 10 times more than regular ones. To explain this, Patel uses the example of green generators, manufactured by Netherlands-based Maru Systems International and distributed in India by Divya Hitech. He says, “A 44kVA generator set with 600Ah – 8000Ah lithium battery capacity and 1kW-peak (kWp) solar panel costs approximately ₹ 8 million (including GST). The battery itself costs about ₹ 800,000.” However, drastic reduction in running expenses ensures a quick return on investment.

Green generator by Maru Systems; Solar-Powered Generators
Fig. 1: Green generator by Maru Systems; outside view (left) and inside view (right) (Credit: divyahitechsolar.com)

Patel adds, “To give you an idea, a 30kVA traditional generator, running 24/7, generates around 250,000 units of electricity per year. For commercial applications, per unit cost of electricity is at least ₹ 12; generator-driven electricity costs are even higher. This amounts to a minimum of ₹ 3 million annually.

“In addition, there is a constant requirement for diesel (or other fuel) throughout the year. It is safe to say that, under these assumptions, total annual maintenance cost exceeds ₹ 3 million. The bigger the generator capacity, the higher the cost.

“A similar-powered solar generator running under same conditions dramatically reduces this operational cost. The only running cost associated here is for batteries, which need to be changed earliest after six years of usage.

“Solar generators run mostly by capturing solar energy. Charging at night, if required, is done through grid electricity. Even then, lithium-ion batteries get charged quickly—within three hours. So, electricity costs reduce dramatically.

“On the other hand, diesel is not required, except in emergency conditions. This is another major reduction in expense. Overall, an estimated ROI period for solar generators is about four years, depending on the extent of use, scale of application and area of implementation.”

Solar-powered generators are future-proof, as well. Patel makes a valid point. He says, “It must be considered that prices of diesel and electricity will keep increasing with every passing year. Today, diesel costs about ₹ 70 per litre. It is only a matter of time when this becomes ₹ 100 per litre. These costs keep adding to the operational expenses. Considering that, there is a massive payback awaiting with solar.”

Market strength

While there are a good number of international vendors for solar generators, domestic production is negligibly low. However, global players are in talks to create footprints in the country. For instance, Maru Systems is ready to set up its production unit in Gujarat, within a span of one year.

Indian players like Gautam Solar and Su-Kam offer various solar-powered power backup solutions, in addition to individual generator set components like charge controllers, batteries and panels.

Goal Zero is a popular global solar solution provider that delivers solar-powered generators for domestic and commercial uses.

India has made tremendous progress in its solar sector over the last few years. Yet, the industry is nascent and has much to deliver. Patel says, “Costs are still high, and there is limited financial assistance available from the government or banks. More assistance from the government and rising awareness will turn the tides. As domestic manufacturing increases, prices will come down and adoption rates will be higher.”

Illustration showing how to set up a solar-based power backup system
Fig. 2: Illustration showing how to set up a solar-based power backup system (Credit: jbsolis.com)

Buying tips

Investing in solar generator sets is profitable only if the area of installation frequently lacks electricity, has long-standing blackouts or is being used for critical services that must maintain zero downtime. Higher utilisation will derive quicker ROI.

Ensure that the solar generator is scalable and customisable. This allows modifications in the future, instead of having to purchase new products. Additionally, ensure that the battery is replacable. Verify the capacities of solar panels and batteries as required. Make sure that output power of the generator (maximum power capacity that it can provide for backup) is high, for multiple appliance support.

Monocrystalline solar panels are the most efficient in terms of energy generation. These are also the most space-effective, but are quite expensive. If your budget permits, go for this category of panels. Otherwise, poly-crystallines are also acceptable. These are cost-effective with moderate performance efficiency.

Check for warranty and service availability. Batteries should ideally come with three years warranty, while solar panels with 25 years warranty.

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