Gravitricity: Generating Electricity using Gravity

Gravitricity: Generating Electricity using Gravity

Yes, you heard that right!!

Generating electricity using gravity is now even closer than ever before. Edinburgh based company named Gravitricity has been working on this novel project since its foundation in 2011 and is set to perform its first demonstration in 2021. It basically uses the concept of the conversion of potential energy to the kinetic energy of an object and uses that energy to run the turbines. 

Alternatively,

The object used to generate electrical energy is referred to as a type of electrical storage device that stores gravitation energy is called a Gravity Battery

Gravitricity is not the first one to generate electricity using gravity, pumped-storage hydroelectricity does the same. But this tech has a totally different story to tell.

The Need for Storage of Electrical Energy

To meet consumer demand at any point in time for a particular product or resource, it has to be stored efficiently. Just like a warehouse of Amazon or a water reservoir at your home.

But it’s not that easy to store electricity.

As the world is preparing a future of renewables like solar and wind, it can never be as stable and reliable as a fossil-fueled or nuclear power plant. Solar power plants will work in the daytime and wind will only work when, obviously, the wind is blowing.

But the fundamental problem is that we are not using electricity when there is supply is at its peak. In fact it varieties throughout the day with peaks in the morning and evening. Researchers have generated model data by analysing the demand and supply graphs and have found out that the demand is getting lower and lower during midday. This is caused due to the increase in solar energy installations which is lowering the demand curve when the sun is out. This graph of the drop in demand is called the Duck Curve.

So it becomes a bit complicated to manage the excess supply from solar energy during the day when the demand is low. So there are two options available for the Utility companies, who have to make real-time decisions or else might risk is blowing up the power grid 

  • To switch off the solar energy grid when the supply is higher than demand or
  • To store the excess energy generated and use it afterward when required 

This is the place where gravity batteries have a major role to play.

How does Gravity Battery work

Gravity Battery basically means storing gravitational energy on an object by lifting it at a certain height and then releasing the object to generate electricity. 

The question in everybody’s minds would “What about the energy required to pull that object up?”. 

Well, that is a valid question and is the fundamental principle of thermodynamics.

Every machine has to have a certain amount of efficiency for work to be done. 

That is Output energy minus the input energy given. For this case, as I had mentioned, the excess energy generated by the solar grid will be used here to lift the weights. This is as if the battery is being charged and can be discharged when there is demand.

The beauty of Gravitricity is that supply is met instantaneously by just releasing the weights.

Gravitricity 

Gravitricity

Gravitricity plant visualised within a rural edge landscape setting using 3D software.

Scale prototype test rig 250kW Gravitricity

Gravitricity makes use of large weights in a vertical shaft using winches that double up as dynamos. It aims to use old or abundant mines to reduce the cost of digging deep burrows. 

Gravitricity will make use of heavyweights ranging from 500 to 5000 tonnes released into deep shafts. Such a unit aims to deliver a power output range of 1 to 20MW at a duration of 5 minutes to 8 hours.

It more or less will work sort of a backup generator, to be able to provide large amounts of electricity within a very short time even in less than a second.  

The Scottish energy innovators have sourced their initial funding of £1.5 million from a crowdfunding campaign and were later funded by the UK government. 

The team is very excited about its first 250kW demonstration early in 2021 with the collaboration of the Dutch winch and offshore manufacturer Huisman Equipment BV.  If this prototype is successful then can aim in developing a full-scale commercial prototype in an abundant mine shaft. 

The Good and The Bad of Gravitricity

The Good:

Gravitricity has a lot of advantages against the existing electricity storage tech like the Lithium-ion batteries 

  • Have claimed by the company that it has a 50-year design life – with no cycle limit or degradation, unlike Li-ion batteries which have a short life cycle.
  • Response time – 0 to full power in less than one second
  • Efficiency – between 80 & 90 %
  • Versatile – can run slowly at low power or fast at high power
  • Simple – easy to construct near networks
  • Cost-effective – levelised costs well below lithium batteries
  • Does not produce any waste whatsoever, whereas Li-ion are hazards to dispose of and can catch fire which can be very dangerous
  • Unlike pumped-stored hydroelectricity (PSH), solar panels, and wind turbines can only operate if certain are met, gravity battery can operate anywhere on earth. As gravity is everywhere.
  • PSH has to have two large natural or mad build lakes which has to be aligned which makes it pretty much geographically limited but not gravity batteries. It does not need so much the area to build upon  

The Bad

Well, the main disadvantage is that it cannot be used as a power plant or as a major power source. Apart from that here are some drawback

  • Geographical limitations- Is it at present limited to the usage of old or abandoned mine shafts which will help to lower the cost
  • The cost of digging a shaft is high in the initial stage, so the company has to locate old mine shaft around the world for which data is not readily available for every country
  • Can only be charged when there is excess energy in the grid, which makes it a bit unreliable and can only work as a backup option

What the Future Holds

The environmental impact of Gravitricity is very low, almost negligible. As it uses old mines for its shaft and has nothing to be disposed of, unlike Li-ion batteries. A gravity battery is a great way to store excess energy off the grid and can a potential game-changer if implemented well.

Gravitricity has received a nod from the UK and the South African government to explore and analyze disused mines for suitability.

Bhadla Solar Park: World’s Largest Solar Plant

The new crown for the World’s Largest Solar plant has gone to Bhadla Solar Park in March 2020, which is located in Rajasthan, India with a total capacity of 2245 MW and is providing electricity to millions in India.

The project takes full advantage of the dry and barren wasteland of 45 sq km. As Bhadla is located in the middle of a desert, it is prone to sand storms which might be a trouble for a solar plant, but not this one. This solar park is equipped with a very advance robotic tech which uses non-water techniques to clean the PV panels

Bhadla: The Location

Jodhpur, Rajasthan

Image by Gajendra Bhati from Pixabay

Rajasthan is India’s most solar developed state. Bhadla is located in the Jodhpur district of Rajasthan and is described as “unlivable” due to extreme and harsh weather. The day temperature of this arid desert ranges from 46 to 48 ℃, coupled with sand storms makes it inhospitable. Rainfall is very scarce in this location as it is situated in the north-west of India, the monsoon clouds get saturated when it reaches this point.

Having said that, this location is almost ideal for a solar plant as it has clear skies throughout the year. To be precise Rajasthan has the highest solar radiation of about 5.72kWh/m²/day, no doubt it has the largest solar plant in the world.

Why is Bhadla the Largest Solar Power Plant in the World

Not long ago in 2019 India still held the position of the largest solar plant in the world with a total capacity of 2050 MW, the Pavagada Solar Park. But the spot was taken by China, Huanghe Hydropower Golmud Solar Park, which started its construction in November 2019 and was completed in just four months. Well, that’s super fast.

But India was not behind, Bhadla plant was constructed in four phases and had multiple stakeholders and due to the harsh location, the process took a bit more time.  But still, it was completed in 2020 to be crowned the world’s largest.

Satellite Image of Bhadla Solar project

For more read here

So at present India that is December 2020, India has 6 solar power plants amongst the top 10 solar plants in the world on the basis of total capacity.

One of the Lowest Solar Tariff

To any one’s knowledge, huge projects like Bhadla collaborates with multiple developers. They are selected through auctions regulated by the government. For Bhadla solar plant there was a massive list of 16 developers. The total investment raised at the end of the completion of the project was ₹100 billion or US$ 1.4 billion

List of Projects Developed in Bhadla Solar Park

The project was developed in 4 phases and for each phase, it was divided into multiple batches. The developers had to bid on the allocated space given on the basis of the total capacity e.i., Mega Watt. The bidders here had to bid the lowest tariff they could offer after commissioning of that section of the plant to be awarded. This type of auction is called Reverse Auction.

The lowest bid for the project was made by ACME Solar, which was ₹2.44 per unit for the 500 MW allotted for auction. This is actually cheaper than thermal power plants in some cases and was considered historically lowest during the time.

Water-free Robotic Cleaners

As Bhadla solar park is located in the middle of the desert, it is prone to dust and sand storms throughout the year. Accumulation of sand on the solar panel reduces the efficiency by a large margin. So cleaning of the panels on a regular basis is an essential part of the project.

But there was a fundamental problem.

Water

Arranging tons to water to clean the panels in the middle of a desert was totally impossible. They had to think of something which was required less or on water for cleaning.

A robotics company named Ecoppia came with the solution. Ecoppia is a leading company in the field of robotic PV cleaning solution. It uses cloud based water-free robotic technology to clean the solar panels of the Bhadla solar park. It was the ideal solution for the project as it does not require any water for cleaning and can be controlled remotely using its cloud based support.

India is very ambitious in the field of renewable energy and also is one of the world leader. India has announced multiple ultra mega projects which are in the pipeline like in Gujarat, Ladakh etc.. Bhadla Solar Park is not only the largest solar plant till date but also it uses the most modern robotics tech to ensure its smooth operation. It has gone through a lot of hurdles due to delays related to land allocation and severe weather conditions it has completed in March 2020.

 

The Story of Eletricity in Ladakh

Electricity in Ladakh: The Story

Ladakh, which is also known as ‘The Land of High Passes’, is India’s one of the most heavenly places. Though a barren land, it is surrounded by high ice-capped mountains which are truly breathtaking and picture-perfect. Ladakh is one of the most visited places in India has been a great tourist spot and has attracted tons of people every year not only for tourism but also for filming.  

As they say, sometimes beauty can be a curse! Due to Ladakh’s raw and nearly untouched scenic beauty, resources are scarce and hard to get by.

The Geography

Ladakh is the highest and also one of the most spectacular plateaus of India. It is a biker’s paradise. Filled with treacherous terrains, harsh winters and rocky mountains, it creates a natural backdrop of serenity and grandeur. It is seated at an average height of 9,800 feet above sea level, with its magnificent peaks surrounding it ranges from 16,400 ft to 23,000 ft.

Ladakh Roads

Photo by Aryan Singh on Unsplash

Ladakh receives very less rainfall through the year due to the position of the great Himalayas which creates a rain shadow effect, preventing the monsoon from penetrating. So there main source of water is snowfall.

The Current Scenario of Electricity in Ladakh

You would imagine that in this 21st century and the availability of technology how come a place like Ladakh be so left behind?

Lighting up Ladakh is no easy task. It is very unforgiving, harsh and has very few sources of resources. The native people have lived for centuries without basic health amenities and have only relied upon traditional practices. 

Ladakh Tribals

Photo by Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash

Electricity in Ladakh comes from Two Sources

  • About two-thirds of the power is supplied using diesel generators. As we all know diesel is a by-product of crude oil and is also one of the major sources of carbon emissions. Diesel and Petrol are taxed heavily by the Government, around USD 4.27 per gallon or Rs 84 per Litre which almost double the price in the US. 
  • There is also a hydel power plant on the Indus river at Stakna, about 40 km upstream of Leh city which acts as a secondary source of electricity in Ladakh during the summer. But it freezes up in the winter for two months, which makes the diesel engines the only source of power.

It was only after the 72 years of India’s Independence that Kasmir was finally connected to the national electricity grid by PowerGrid Corporation of India Limited (PGCIL). According to the official tweet by PGCIL on 11th January 2020 states that it is connected to the national grid through a 220 kV transmission system.

 


 

But, there is a Catch

Due to Ladakh’s difficult terrain, most of its region is still not connected to the national grid system. During the summer season, the demand is met by the hydel power plant but during the winters the demand considerably increases. Supply from hydel plants during the winter seasons is low due to the freezing of the river. As a result, the power demand is satisfied with the use of local diesel generators. It now seems that the only saviour for Ladakh is Solar power.

Solar to the Rescue!

solar panels in ladakh

Fringe2013, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The localities have been using solar products such as solar lamps, solar panels etc. in their houses in recent years. Some are NGO backed or are crowdfunded. People are educated and trained on how to install and take advantage of the system. 

Ladakh receives an average of 300 sunny days throughout the year, which is ideal for a solar plant. As it is located at a very high altitude, facing in the rainshadow side of the Himalayas leads to the lesser cloud. 

The much-awaited Solar Power plant was announced by the Honourable Prime Minister on the Independence day (15th August 2020). The aim is to make Ladakh, a union territory to be declared as carbon neutral, after the completion of the 7.5GW plant. 

The cost of the plant will be around Rs 4,500 crore and is estimated to be completed in 2023  saving 12,750 tonnes of carbon emissions in every year of operation. The operation will be executed in several phases to complete this massive project. The first phase will be of 2500 MW grid-connected capacity in the Kargil District and 5000 MW capacity in Leh District.

Ladakh is one of the many places in India which is on the road to renewable energy. I do hope that we also slowly adapt to the change of mindset and embrace this technology.

This pandemic has given us proof of how we are polluting our own home and how only we can make things better by just changing our mindset by choosing things differently.

The Story of Solar Energy in India

You might have heard the story of Iceland and its success in achieving zero carbon emissions by utilizing Geothermal energy. Iceland falls on an active tectonic plate due to which it has a rich source of Geysers and hot springs. The government of Iceland has utilized the natural source of energy very effectively which powers up the entire country.

Just like Iceland, India gets abundant sunlight 300 days in the year which is due to its geographical position. India has the potential to replace all the energy sources generated from non-renewable resources with Solar energy. The Indian Government has made great efforts in utilizing Solar technology and has reached a capacity of 37.627 GW in the first quarter of 2020.

The Road to Electrify India’s Villages

Detaied Breakdown of Solar PV Installed In G20 Countries
As you might have heard that India has achieved electrification of all the villages on the 29th of April 2018.
So what do we mean by electrification of a village?

Well, according to the Ministry of power a village qualifies to be electrified if 10% of the households have power. But the road to achieving a country having 24/7 power availability to every household is a tough call due to its terrain and population. Solar energy has played a very important role to help the poor get access to electricity. Within two years more than 2700 villages were electrified mostly with the help of Solar energy.

Taking Advantage of the Sun

One of the biggest advantages of a Solar Photovoltaic System that I have found out is that it is very easy to create a local-grid cluster and distribute the electricity generated to a small village.

You just need to identify an open space near the locality/ community, add a few arrays of PV cells, and transmit the power generated directly. It is a very cheap and effective solution in lighting up the villages which are off the grid. By opting in a localized off-grid system one could avoid the cost of installing transmission lines, distribution stations, and huge power plants.

In India, there are hundreds of villages that are located in very remote terrain for instance in Ladakh, where the villagers have effectively utilized Solar Energy for their livelihood.

Solar Panel installed in Ladakh
Ladakh is a very remote area that is surrounded by icy mountains which makes it very tough to build high tension transmission lines. A decentralized power source is an easiest and most effective way for places like Ladakh.

Ladakh is also building the world’s largest single-location solar power plant project which is estimated to generate over 5000 MW of electricity and will help in saving 12,750 tonnes of carbon emission every year which is huge!

So what can we learn from the villages of India?

Here are some important takeaways that I think can be a lesson learned:

  • The most important point that I have observed from the villages is that Solar technology has been very affordable. Day by day the demand for solar tech is increasing due to which more and more companies are increasing their production.
  • In cities where residents are paying more than ₹ 5 should start building a rooftop off-grid solar power system. This system can act as a backup power source to your home or can replace the grid during the daytime. By doing so not only will you save on your monthly bill, but it also will release a lot of load from the grid and the environment. So, what I can see is a win-win scenario for both you and the environment.
  • It is pretty much possible to be self-sustainable by generating your own energy by staying off the grid using solar technology.
  • In 2015, over one million Solar lanterns and Solar lighting systems have helped to reduce the dependency on Kerosene oil in villages. The Indian Government has stepped up in helping them out by providing a subsidy of 30 to 40% up to 210 Wp.

India has a great market for the Solar industry as out of the total 2.1 GW of power produced from solar energy, only 20% is generated from residential rooftop installation which roughly accounts for 430 MW. Whereas, the UK which has only half of the solar potential of India generates over 2500MW from residential rooftop solar installations.

India has a target of 40GW from only solar rooftop systems which might be a little too much as we are not even close to the target.
But we should not be disheartened and should take in all the positives from the villages of India. If rural India can achieve such a feat urban India can also follow suit.

How to Utilize Solar Energy at Home banner image

5 Easy Ways to Utilize Solar Energy at Home

Being born and brought up in a developing country means there is always a deficit of resources. Inflation is always on the rise in this part of the world, which means the prices of commodities are high. 

In my early stages of life, I quickly realized that the best way is to be self-sufficient and self-sustained. But if you live in a city like me then due to lack of space, growing your own food might be difficult but electricity can be harnessed at home. And the Sun even though millions of kilometers away has the solution.

Solar Energy: You have the Power!

Yes, you will have the power of the SUN. A giant ball of gas burning out in space for billions of years (4.603 billion years to be exact). It is an abundant, free, and renewable source of energy waiting for you to convert those photons into electrons. There are multiple ways in which you can harness the Sun’s energy, not only for electricity but also for heat. The positive thing about solar energy is that it is cheaper compared to other sources of power. Here is a chart which shows the trend over time of the gross price per watt from the year 2016 to 2019.

 

Gross cost per watt

Here are 5 ways to Utilize Solar Energy at home

1. Generating electricity using Solar Panels

Solar panels are just like the leaves of a tree. Both generate energy using sunlight. Solar panels generate electricity by converting the photons into electrons in a Photovoltaic Cell (PV cells).

These PV cells are basically semiconductors made up of Silicon wired up to generate electricity. These panels are interconnected in an array to generate the amount of energy needed.

The government of India will even pay a 30% subsidy upon installation cost. There are two ways in which you can install a Solar system at your home in India:

off grid vs on grid solar system

On the Grid

Here the Solar System is directly connected to the grid with help of an inverter and a net meter. This is a straight grid system where the electricity generated is directly sold to the utility department. In this case, the meter reading reverses, which means the distribution company will pay in terms of credits for selling the surplus electricity generated at your home. The only thing to keep in mind is that there should not be any power outage or else all the electricity produced will go to waste. The good news is that the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy does support this scheme.

Off the Grid

If you want your house to be powered only through Solar energy and be independent of the grid then this is the choice for you. You can add in a large bank of batteries connected to the solar panels. You have to ensure that there is enough sunlight throughout the year and that the energy stored can fulfill your energy consumption. The only downside here is that you have to pay a high initial investment for installation which will prove to be less in the long run of total independence for the grid. Being energy efficient is the key here.

The more energy-efficient your home is the less you will consume from your batteries. You have to be extra cautious in using electrical appliances at your home, you can rather use the surrounding environment to our benefit to reduce the load on your batteries. This is also applicable to the first case.

2.Solar Water Heaters

solar water heater

Conventional electric or gas-powered water heaters consume a lot of energy to heat water. Both conventional heaters have a source of energy that is either expensive or produces poisonous fumes. In the case of a Solar Water heater, it uses the cleanest, free and renewable source of energy which is sunlight. There are different types of heaters available in the market but all use the same basic principle and are very easy to install. These heaters act as a heat exchanger, the energy from the sunlight is directly transmitted to water. Geysers come at a wide range of prices but it doesn’t stop there. They add up a good amount of units into your monthly metering. Whereas Solar Water heaters are a one-time investment with zero electric consumption. It will directly cut off the expense generated by an electric geyser.

3.Solar lamps

solar lamps

Solar lamps are the best solution for a developing country like India, where there are places with absolutely no electricity. It is mainly focused on the rural areas of India and it is a very cost-effective solution. A solar lamp comprises 3 components – A solar panel, battery, and a lamp.

There are two types of lamps, indoor and outdoor lamps.

  • Indoor lamps: These lamps are basically used for indoor purposes as the name suggests. Typically it is connected with a solar panel which is placed on the roof and a LED light. These lamps are called Solar Lanterns in rural India and are used especially where there is no access to electricity.
  • Outdoor lamps: Outdoor Solar Lamps are gaining popularity in cities, towns, private community areas, etc. The main purpose of using such lighting is to reduce carbon footprint and be self-sustaining. On average an outdoor solar LED lamp can give up to 10 hours of light when fully charged. There are many types of outdoor solar lamps, amongst them, the most popular is the solar street light. It comes with a built-in solar panel, a battery, and an LED bulb. Other personalized lambs are coming into the market very fast for example garden lamps, solar traffic lights, solar emergency lights, and so on.

4.Solar Cookers

Solar Cooker

Solar cooking is a way of utilizing the sun’s rays and using the heat energy generated as fuel to cook food. These contain shiny reflective surfaces which converge and concentrate the sun rays to a particular point where the uncooked food is placed. The sunlight can be concentrated to produce extremely high temperatures, that can not only be used to boil an egg but also reach over a 1000 degree Celsius. In the case of a standard solar box cooker, it can reach up to 150 degrees Celsius which is not very hot.

It is totally self-sufficient and does not use any external source of fuel like propane, butane, wood, or coal. Thus reducing the amount of CO2 which is released in the air in extracting, logistics, and burning of other fuels.

5.Solar Inverters

Solar Inverter

The function of a solar inverter basically converts the Direct Current (DC) produced by the solar panels to Alternating Current (AC) at 240 volts so that it can be used to power up household appliances. As electrical appliances cannot operate using DC electricity it has to be converted to AC. If a solar inverter is not used then the electricity generated is fed to the grid.

Solar energy can undoubtedly be a potential source of alternative energy which can serve a dual purpose. It can not only power up a house and help stay off the grid but most importantly helps in the reduction of carbon emissions. As the sun will still live another 7.5 billion years and that’s a lot of time, a lot!!

 

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