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Executive Summary

The proposed R&D project aims to build a working prototype of a cost efficient solar thermal electricity generation system. Starting with research on individual electrical and mechanical components, the goal is to achieve a design which can be commercially produced and manufactured within the country (using 90% or above indigenous production capability and off the shelf components), is reliable and largely serviceable by minimal training of existing technicians in urban and rural areas of Pakistan. Two prototype systems will be commercially built and deployed to verify and fine-tune the design parameters. A byproduct of such systems is residual heat energy that can be used to heat buildings in winter, provide hot water year round and drive air-conditioning systems in the summer.

The project is strategic because of acute shortage of electrical energy that the country is facing. Such shortfall is both due to peak summer demand and high production cost based on a fossil fuel based thermal generation capacity leading to distortions including fuel adjustments regime, circular debt and incentives for increased theft of electricity. Given the fact that efficiency and capacity of Solar based electricity generation systems is highest when sunshine is abundant and days are longer, it is perfectly correlated with peak summer air-conditioning load which in recent years has exceeded 6,000 megawatts.

The proposal is unique because it hopes to bring highly accomplished academic researchers to work closely with industry experts in mechanical engineering (metal and mechanical fabrication, engine design and heat transfer to name a few areas) and electrical machinery production (alternators, motors and control systems). The existing know how available in mechanical and electrical engineering industries in the country will be augmented with the newly developed research to solve a pressing need of the nation. In other cases the project team will work to enhance the know-how and techniques employed by mechanical and electrical engineering industries by upgrading their skill set.

The impetus for the proposed project comes from both an acute shortage of affordable energy in the country and the development and adoption of green electricity generation technologies in the rest of the world. While the rest of the world is seeing an unprecedented investment in research and development as well as commercial deployment of alternative energy systems, large or small scale deployments of such systems in Pakistan has lagged the rest of the world. Indigenous research and development efforts in leveraging and improving existing industrial and commercialization capability of the country to produce alternative means of energy are virtually non-existent.

While Solar photovoltaic based systems are the most known in extracting Sun’s abundant energy for commercial and household use, an alternative model to consider is solar thermal based systems. Such systems have been demonstrated to be practical, viable and cost effective both in academic research and commercial settings [8], [9]. Commercial deployments have been carried out in Europe (Spain) and in the United States (California and elsewhere) for large scale solar thermal to electrical energy conversion. However, adoption of small to medium scale solar thermal to electrical energy conversion systems has been confined to academic research and basic prototyping. Due to shortage of electrical energy for home, rural and small industry segments, solar thermal to electrical energy conversion systems are of immense importance for Pakistan. The Solar thermal approach suggested in this proposal aims to deliver a working 250-500 watt solar thermal electricity generation system. The project distinguishes itself from other R&D proposals by emphasizing building a working prototype which can be cost effectively produced and commercially scaled in production by using and enhancing existing industrial capability of the country.

Solar thermal has several advantages in the context of Pakistan based on the following factors.

  1. Solar thermal maps generated by US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) indicate that most of Pakistan receives approximately 4.5-5 kWh of solar radiation per square meter per day and hence has the potential of producing ~1 kWh (one unit) of electricity per sq meter (11 sq ft) per day at a conversion efficiency of ~20%. The Solar map is shown in Figure at the end of this section. A PhD thesis from University of Karachi (1989), having conducted detailed experiments, concludes that prospects of solar radiation in Karachi are very bright due to small variation in solar insulation and low dispersion caused by vapours etc.
  2. With the prohibitive costs of setting up a semiconductor fabrication facility that can produce PV cells and the fact that more than 50% of the cost of a photovoltaic system is accounted for by solar panels, Solar thermal offers a route to develop and design products that can be replicated using the technology readily available in Pakistan with minimum imported components saving the country large amount of foreign exchange.

As stated earlier, the goal of this research and development proposal is to design and build a complete working prototype (and to bring the design to a manufacturable stage) of a solar thermal based electricity generation system with a capacity of 250W-500W. The individual sub-systems that will be built as part of this effort will include:

  1. A Sun collector to collect solar heat that can be produced cheaply and can withstand solar radiation and environmental factors over an extended period of time without material degradation.
  2. A heat engine that can convert the energy captured by Sun collector into mechanical motion.
  3. An electric generator and power conditioning unit that converts variable speed mechanical motion into grid quality electricity with support for electrical energy storage.
  4. To assemble above sub-systems into a working prototype while optimizing the system for maximum efficiency.

Additional goals of this effort will include:

  1. To research and solve manufacturability and cost issues to convert working prototype into a product that can be repeatedly and cost effectively manufactured in an industrial setting delivering predictable product quality and results for commercial proliferation.
  2. To manufacture two working units and install them in real life settings to assess future viability and proliferation potential of the technology and design. Considerable data will be collected over an extended period of time to validate the design parameters, fine tune the solution and assess the course for future commercialization and continued research on technology produced.
  3. While achieving all of the above objectives develop and train human resource in each of the specialized subject areas. In addition, both develop and leverage indigenous industrial capability of the country to produce components and systems related to solar thermal energy conversion. With minimal training, upgrade the skill set of technicians in rural and urban areas to maintain the product.

In order to achieve above results, a multi-disciplinary team is required with the following expertise.

  1. A team that has background in Mechanical engineering with specific expertise in thermodynamics, heat engines, manufacturing processes and mechanical fabrication and will deliver the solar to mechanical motion sub-system. This includes fabricating a durable, efficient and low cost solar energy capture subsystem along with the heat engine.
  2. A team that has background in Electrical engineering with specific expertise in Power Electronics and control system to deliver the variable speed mechanical motion to grid quality electricity sub-system.
  3. A team that can analyze the non-technical environmental factors, incentives and trade-offs to effectively proliferate the end product. Such factors will include evaluating social and economic context, identifying most relevant target markets, scaling the solution for commercial production and analyzing financial parameters around the product.
  4. A team that has access to key stakeholders in the commercial value chain, electric machinery manufacturers, mechanical engine and fabrication outfits and metallurgy processing units to productize and commercialize the work produced by the team. As the project is started, a set of advisers from diverse related industrial outfits (mechanical, metallurgical and electrical) will be convinced to join the advisory board of the project to help with prototyping, design feasibility and manufacturing of the technology produced.

In short, the team deployed for the project will not only have highly motivated research driven technically competent members but also have the skills to create a business plan that addresses and undertakes product viability analysis, identifies sweet spots and early adopters of the product, creates awareness, grabs mindshare and proliferates the product in target market segments. The goal is to convert the research into a working product while taking into account the environmental factors - financial, manufacturing, adoption and operational.

Solar Map – Pakistan