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Vivek Srivastava

Developed and developing nations have different drivers for adoption of renewable energy. While there is a strong push in western nations for clean technologies though government intervention, in developing nations choices are based on economics. In this context, photovoltaic technology stands out among its competitors due to its significant cost reduction potential. Technology upgradation will play a major role is achieving the target of "grid parity" for photovoltaics

August 5th, 2008

Nanotechnology and renewable energy

For the last couple of months I have been looking closely at the renewable energy sector, in general, and solar energy, in particular. It has been a fruitful exercise as I discovered a number of facts which I was previously unaware of. Despite the tremendous media hype, the fact remains, less than 5% of total global energy consumption comes from renewable sources. Solar and wind combined contribute less than 1% of total energy generation worldwide. These couple of facts help put the current status of renewable energy in perspective. Now let's turn to the "growth story".

There are a number of geography specific market drivers towards greater role for renewable energy as shown in Table 1 below.

Key drivers for adoption of renewable energy in different geographical regions

What is apparent from the table above is that there is a strong "push" in developed countries towards renewable energy due to environmental and regulatory issues and there is a strong customer "pull" for alternate energy sources in the developing world. It is anticipated that in the absence of grid-parity, demand for renewable energy would remain low in these regions. Southern Europe and US would be see increasing demand as they try and catch up with the current leaders i.e. Germany and Japan.

In terms of various options of renewable energy, grid connected photovoltaic installations have seen fastest growth over the last five year, north of 40% CAGR. This trend is expected to continue since other technologies like solar thermal, wind turbine, bio-diesel do not hold as large cost reduction potential as photovoltaic. Cumulative installed photovoltaic capacity is expected to shoot from about 10 GW in 2007 to about 160 GW by 2020.

For these demand forecasts to become reality, cost of electricity generation needs to come down gradually so as to make PV economically viable and widespread. Technology would have to play a major role to enable this cost reduction. Uncertain supply-demand situation of polysilicon, a key raw material in solar cells is forcing manufacturers to look at newer processing routes e.g. thin film or alternate materials like Cadmium Telluride. In the next few columns, I will be writing about the role of nanotechnology in cost reduction of photovoltaic technology with a focus on Indian market, companies and technologies.

Please send your feedback, ideas, and suggestions to Vivek Srivastava at .

Vivek hold a Ph. D. in materials science and has published over a dozen papers in international journals and contributed to international conferences and seminars. He has interests in commercialization of nanotechnology & new ventures with innovative business models to exploit the advantages India offers. He consults existing businesses to grow and expand in new technology areas, and serves as mentor to budding entrepreneurs. His current research interest are "severe plastic deformation methods for production of bulk nanomaterials" and "Role of industry dynamics on making R&D funding decisions".

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