As gas production rises globally, Indian state faces shortage – and sees solar as a solution

Nearly every research publication predicts global natural gas production will rise. But in one Indian state, a gas shortage has leaders turning to solar.

The United States will emerge as a net exporter as supply outstrips demand, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. Meanwhile, countries and companies are pushing into the Arctic, including Russia’s Yamal Peninsula in Siberia, to tap rich discoveries to supply Asia and Europe.

Through 2019, the International Energy Agency forecasts, global natural gas production will rise by more than 14 percent.

Insufficient gas supplies

Contrast this to Andhra Pradesh on India’s southeastern coast, where a government-published white paper this month lamented that thousands of megawatts of gas-fired electricity-generation capacity has been idled. Why? Because there aren’t sufficient resources to fire up the turbines. Expected gas supplies never materialized.

All this comes as residents of the region have faced extended power blackouts because there isn’t sufficient electricity supply at certain times to cover demand.

According to the Andhra Pradesh government, however, officials hope to help close the supply-demand gap by strengthening the region’s solar generating capacity. The Times of India, the world’s largest English-language newspaper by daily circulation, reports the state will dedicate a 1,000 megawatt solar power project for the capital and its surrounding areas.

This is among several projects in the planning stages in Andhra Pradesh, whose population of 50 million people is nearly that of England, as its leaders seek to meet the growing needs of their economy that’s dominated by agriculture, industry and services.

Report: Lagging other states

According to Andhra Pradesh’s white paper released on its web site, the government points out it’s behind other Indian states in pursuing renewables such as solar.

“States like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have added 916 megawatts, 730 megawatts, 347 megawatts and 250 megawatts respectively in solar capacity,” according to the 14-page report. “This displays the gross underutilization of potential on part of Andhra Pradesh which is today at the bottom in Renewable energy as compared to similarly placed states.”

India is increasingly looking to solar. Earlier this month, for instance, the government issued guidelines for installation of up to 1.5 gigawatt of solar power plants. That’s the largest tender issued, to date.

And ABB is increasingly active in India’s solar market.

Top inverter supplier

Last year, ABB expanded production of its solar inverters at the Nelamangala facility in Bangalore to support the rapidly growing local photovoltaic market. ABB is the top supplier of solar inverters in India with 30 percent market share in 2013, according to market research firm HIS.

Among its projects, ABB has commissioned a 40-megawatt solar power plant in Bitta in Gujarat’s Kutch district.

Even with about 2,500 megawatts of solar power installed already across India, Subir Pal, Head of Discrete Automation and Motion Division at ABB India, told a business publication last month the sector remains “under-exploited.”

To remedy that, he said, ABB offers not only solutions for grid-type solar and rooftop solar but also solar pump inverters for the agricultural sector that don’t rely on a grid connection.

Grid-independent solar pumps

“To get around the issue of grid connection, we can now install grid-independent solar pumps,” Pal told the Hindu Business Line. “We have 200 solar pumps in operation in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.”

These pumps – they consist of a photo voltaic cell, an ABB drive, motor and pump – are a real blessing to rural communities. Compared to diesel-generator pumps, for instance, they’re environmentally friendly, with a long lifetime and low maintenance costs, all without the burden of relying on expensive, potentially hard-to-get fuel.

As Andhra Pradesh tackles electricity challenges stemming from what in this age of plentiful natural gas might seem an unlikely culprit – a shortage of gas – solutions like these from ABB that put the sun to work for people to improve their lives are going to be a big help.

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About the author

John-Philip Miller

I’m the senior editor in ABB’s group corporate communications team, in Zurich. For most of my career I’ve been a reporter, at Bloomberg News in Zurich and then for the last 10 years at The Associated Press in Idaho.
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