In a bid to boost the use of solar-powered cold storages, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has extended its subsidy scheme to solar refrigeration units as well. Most solar powered items, including solar lamps and solar heating systems, enjoy a 30% subsidy under different MNRE programmes.”Solar-powered cold storages are still at an experimental stage. We hope the subsidy will encourage their use,” said Tarun Kapoor, a joint secretary at the ministry.
There are barely 10 solar cold storages being used in the country so far, the first having been installed about three years ago. Costing around 30-40 lakh, they are manufactured by a handful of private companies such as Ecozen Solutions and Promethean Power Systems. They mostly use phase change material as insulation to trap solar energy for refrigeration purposes, along with battery backup.
“Government support should enable many more to be set up, while existing ones can scale up,” said Kapoor. The shelf life of solar cold storages is around 15 years.Conventional cold storages cost half that of solar-powered ones, but require grid power which comprises around 20-30% of their running cost. Solar cold storages not only remove this cost, but can also make a key difference in distant rural areas which are not yet electrified, or where power supply is poor.
India is the world’s second largest producer of fruits and vegetables after China, with an output of 82.63 million tonne of fruits and 121.02 million tonne of vegetables in 2013 (the latest year for which figures are available). However, around 30% of this produce perishes for lack of adequate cold storage facilities. “Even the rest has to be quickly brought to market and sold, or the quality deteriorates,” said Kapoor. The pressure to sell early regularly leads to glut and shortages of these commodities in the market, resulting in wild price fluctuations.