Capping IT Off

Capping IT Off

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Harnessing the Power of Solar

The Capgemini SuperTechies episode featuring the Tata Power challenge was telecast today. This was an interesting challenge, because the problem presented was ubiquitous, forward looking and begging to move from enterprise into consumer domain. Mr. Nitin Rohilla, the head of SAP Center of Excellence for Tata Power set the teams a challenge to use technology to make it easier for consumers and small establishments to assess how they can tap into the solar power boom. I was privileged to be a mentor to the two participating teams - Pop 'n Go (University team from the UK) and Duolingos (Industry team from India).

The Solar Business Case

A recent study by International Energy Agency says that Solar power could be world's top electricity source by 2050. The constantly falling cost of solar photovoltaic panels could result in this technology accounting for up to 16% of world’s electricity by mid-century. Imagine the potential solar power holds in the Indian conditions, if tapped properly. In the month of August, Germany produced 75% of all its energy requirements from renewable sources of energy. Part of this component was from Solar power - using large banks of panels which dot the open spaces along the country’s famous autobahns. Developing countries need to do more to achieve reduced oil dependency - this makes not just for cleaner energy but also for great macroeconomics. 

Consumerization of any technology is the surest way of exploiting its full potential. When it comes to energy generation, the world and definitely India, has relied largely on institutional and government mechanisms. Using Solar power in the context of home and small commercial installations ensures direct consumer participation in building energy security. This can result in greater accountability, efficiency and transparency in the power sector over a period of time.

An Ideal Solution to the Supertechies Challenge

It would be an immense value add to have a website or an application which can help this consumer target segment with the feasibility of generating their own solar power. The following elements will form integral part of the solution:
  • Determine solar power generation capacity: This module / section should have the ability to undertake tests like shadow test, to understand direction and quantum of sun rays to maximize power generation options.
  • Integration with historical data or patterns: Over time, the platform needs to be tightly integrated with weather data patterns with appropriate margin of error to establish how many days and what intensity of solar power an establishment was likely to get based on historical records.
  • Determine solar power unit size: This module should assist in understand the sizing of the power plant possible accounting for actual physical dimensions. The sizing should be triaged with the power generation capacity and the user be made aware if the capacity goes down due to restriction on physical unit size.
  • Determine solar power unit weight: This module should calculate the maximum weight the rooftop can take in view of the civil construction designs and building plans. The user should be made aware if the capacity goes down due to restriction on unit weight.
  • Solar unit pricing information: This module should have information on the typical commercial pricing and availability (retailer / distributor information) for solar power equipment. There should be a search function to understand where the user can find the best fit seller of the equipment.
  • Power unit installation procedures: This module should guide the user on the installation process for a solar plant, focusing on regional (state level) variations in laws and regulations as well as the incentives available from the government (e.g. subsidized loans for purchasing solar power equipment).
  • Output metrics: This module should tell the users how much solar power can be expected (in units) on a month on month basis.
  • Commercial trade-offs: This module should let user make calculations on how much money he is expected to save by moving to a solar unit. The module can have the customer input existing cost and tariff structures, potential solar power replacement (units) and cost of generating solar power. The module should demonstrate the IRR for the project and the breakeven period.
  • Actual measurements tracking: This module should calculate how much actual power was generated on a given day vs. expected and accordingly change output metrics and financial indicators.
  • Social community features: Such a technology platform will have social features to build a community over a period of time. This was a point that the winning team Duolingos stressed in a big way.

Ideally, this system can be developed as a website as well as mobile apps. The app can be a light version of the website, with extensive reporting / data viewing ability.

The governments globally as well as in India are now focusing on incentivizing the use of solar power. Giving this a consumer leg up may just be the missing piece in the puzzle. So far the cost of industrializing and commercializing solar have been prohibitive. Using technology with a sense of social responsibility and consumer engagement may be the right course to counter this.

The full episode of this Tata Power Supertechies Challenge can be viewed on YouTube here:

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Aashish Chandorkar
Aashish Chandorkar

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