Big Delhi push to rooftop solar

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India Climate Dialogue, New Delhi, India

India’s capital has a new target to generate a gigawatt of solar power by 2020 and 2 GW by 2025 through rooftop installations, with the government announcing a slew of incentives

Solar panels installed on Indira Paryavaran Bhawan in New Delhi. (Image by Central Public Works Department, Government of India)

Solar panels installed on Indira Paryavaran Bhawan in New Delhi. (Image by Central Public Works Department, Government of India)

Delhi may be the next big “solar city”, if the government of India’s National Capital Territory has its latest wish fulfilled. It has set a target of generating 1 GW of solar power a day through rooftop installations by 2020 and 2 GW by 2025. That’s far higher than targets set by states many times the size of Delhi.

“Making Delhi a solar city is on our 70-point agenda,” says Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s Chief Minister. “This policy which is very progressive will help in providing clean and green energy. Rooftop solar systems offer sustainable energy, environmental benefits, low gestation period and minimum transmission and distribution losses.”

Delhi has a peak power demand of 6.5 GW a day. Quite often, this cannot be met, and people face power cuts in temperatures that cross 40 degrees Celsius. There is enough power in the national grid, but transmission and distribution (T&D) lines are too antiquated to meet peak demand.

Decentralised power generation through rooftop solar installations would take care of T&D problems, and bring down Delhi’s huge carbon footprint.

To turn this dream into reality, the government has proposed tax breaks; 30% subsidy on capital investment; making it mandatory for government and commercial buildings to deploy rooftop solar panels; and for distribution companies to meet at least 75% of their solar renewable purchase obligation (RPO) within Delhi.

Individual households can put up their own rooftop panels. They will get an incentive depending on the amount of power they generate. Those who do not want to make the investment can get a firm to install the solar panels free of cost, and then buy the power from the firm.

New electricity meters have to be installed for the scheme to work, meters that turn one way when the utility is selling power to you, and the other way when you are generation excess power and selling it to the utility. The cost and relative scarcity of these ‘net’ meters has been a big obstacle in the rollout of solar power generation at the household level.

In its new policy, the government has tried to solve this by grouping multiple homes, factories or offices under one ‘net’ meter. This should be of greatest help to large consumers with multiple buildings and electricity connections. It may also help avoid arguments about who owns the terrace in a shared building. The efficacy of this group net metering scheme will be keenly watched.

On top of being able to sell power back to the utility, for the next three years there is an incentive of Rs 2 (3 US cents) per additional unit generated. Aruna Kumarankandath of the Renewable Energy Programme in the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) says, “This is a step in the right direction. So far 18 states have drafted solar policy and Delhi has the best additional generation based incentive to boost rooftop solar.”

Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General of CSE, however warns, “The kind of money they have allocated for subsidies will take care of only 100 MW.” That is 10% of the 2020 target.

Challenges ahead

One big problem is that residents do not want to block up terrace space with solar panels. Terraces have clotheslines and water tanks; they are places where people exercise in the morning and party in the evening.

Now the government has amended the building by-laws so that you can erect a frame on your terrace and then put the panels on the frame, without the tax inspector coming and telling you that your house is higher so you have to pay more property tax.

Plus, you do not even need approval from the municipal corporation to put solar panels on your terrace.

Though the government is silent on this, it still makes sense to check if your building can take the extra weight.

Other challenges remain. A solar panel generating one kilowatt per hour costs Rs 1 lakh (USD 1,500) and takes up around 100 sq. feet. To make money in the long run, one ideally needs to generate in megawatts, but most do not have the space, even if specialised firms take care of the investment. Still, every little will help reduce electricity bills, not to talk of the environment.

Ashutosh Dixit, CEO of URJA – the apex body of around 2,500 resident welfare associations (RWA) in Delhi – welcomes the move. Five RWAs have already installed rooftop solar panels in their offices, he says. But he is worried about solar panels adding to the weight on the building. “The safety issue also needs to be looked into as Delhi gets lots of storms and these panels can easily fly off and injure someone.”

Pujarini Sen, campaigner in environmental NGO Greenpeace, calls the move “a trailblazing step towards fulfilling India’s global climate commitments, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious national solar targets, and overall sustainable development. If the entire country moves in this direction, then the long overdue energy revolution in India will be achieved soon.”

As a first step, it will help if the average resident knows where to go and buy a solar panel.