Lessons from the solar campus

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India Climate Dialogue, Kerala state, India

Karyavattom Campus at Kerala University gets the biggest grid-connected photovoltaic power plant project of the Agency for Non-conventional Energy and Rural Technology. Other institutes in India are following suit

The 100 KW unit which has been fixed atop the golden jubilee building of Kerala University’s Karyavattom campus. (Image by ANERT)

The 100 KW unit which has been fixed atop the golden jubilee building of Kerala University’s Karyavattom campus. (Image by ANERT)

When Kerala University approached the Agency for Non-conventional Energy and Rural Technology (ANERT) to implement a 100 kilowatt (KW) solar project as part of its energy conservation and renewable energy initiative, the idea did not exactly raise eyebrows. Solar is becoming more popular, after all.

But there were practical challenges to be addressed. These included getting approvals from the utility (Kerala State Electricity Board) and the electrical inspectorate. “This is mainly due to the fact that this type of approval process is only evolving,” explains Ajith Gopi, programme officer, solar photovoltaic projects, ANERT, Department of Power, Government of Kerala.

Additionally, it was a unique design experience for ANERT since five string inverters and 400 poly crystalline photovoltaic (PV) modules with various options for solar array were deployed without shading. However, the effort proved worthwhile and the plant now has an excellent supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system for monitoring generation and solar irradiation.

According to Gopi, the project cost just below Rs one crore, and ANERT is likely to get 30% as financial assistance from the central government. The plant is expected to generate 400 units per day out of the total average consumption of 5,100 units on the campus. At Rs 7 per unit in the electricity bill, it will save the university Rs 2,800 per day.

Mini Dejo Kappen, Director (Planning & Development) Kerala University, Thiruvananthapuram, adds, “It will not only help in saving power to a great extent, but since it is grid connected, the electricity generated will go to the grid.”

Apart from helping the university to reduce its utility bill, the project will give a direct opportunity to students to study a solar photovoltaic power plant.

Kappen reveals that after the academic campus, a similar plant will be installed next year at the administrative campus in Palayam, Thiruvananthapuram.

Gopi is confident that the project will be a role model for India. “State governments and state nodal agencies can initiate action for this in consultation with the universities,” he says.

“Projects and instances such as these will not only help conserve resources, but also make people more aware,” says Kappen.

ANERT is now building a 200 KW grid-connected solar plant for Trissur Municipal Corporation. Also, it has floated a tender for a 2 MW solar project in its own premises at Kuzhalmannam in Palakkad district, Kerala. This will be its biggest plant.

As for other educational institutions, Karamveer Baburao Thakare College of Engineering in Nashik, Maharashtra, will install solar panels in its premises as part of a pilot project. The panels are expected to help generate 75 KW and the college will primarily use power generated from solar panels.

Udayanath College of Science & Technology at Adaspur in Cuttack, Orissa, is building a 10 KW solar plant for its girl’s hostel. It will be good enough for 19 ceiling fans and 100 CFL bulbs. Another 1,000 litres per day solar water heating system is being installed in the hostels. “The project is likely to be completed by December 2015,” according to Sameer Palo, manager, Crux Power, which is doing the work.

St Xavier’s College in Mumbai has already switched to solar power and some parts of the campus run entirely on solar energy. The college has three sets of solar panels, the first having been installed in 2004. That heated up 4,000 litres of water a day for 60 hostel residents plus the college canteen. Now computers in the college’s cyber laboratory are run totally on solar energy. The third set provides electricity to lecture rooms, the reference library and a Hall. The system is connected to the grid, which supplements the solar plant when necessary.

Government support for rooftop solar

In another development which could encourage the installation of rooftop solar projects in educational institutions across the country, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has requested all central government ministries, state government departments and schools to take up rooftop solar.

A recent letter from MNRE joint secretary Tarun Kapoor said that after 2-3 years of falling prices, it is now economical to generate power through grid-connected rooftop solar. It added that with a life of 25 years, the payback period for rooftop solar is now around 5-6 years.

India’s ambition

India has an ambitious target of producing 100 GW of solar power by 2022. The government announced a few weeks back that 40 GW of that should come from rooftop solar installations. Kapoor wrote, “There is huge roof space available in government buildings, including offices, PSU (public sector undertaking) buildings and institutions. This can be used to generate thousands of megawatts of solar power and save money for the institutions and ministries.” He also pointed out that some ministries and PSUs have significant amount of spare land that can be utilized for solar.

According to an article in PV Tech, electricity regulatory commissions in 19 states have started net-metering or feed-in tariff mechanisms as a further benefit to rooftop solar and the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA) has launched a loan scheme for grid-connected rooftop solar projects.

Industry experts agree that rooftop solar is feasible. Jasmeet Khurana, senior manager, consulting, Bridge to India, explains that currently rooftop solar is more viable than it has ever been and the market is doubling every year. “This fast pace of growth is likely to continue for at least the next decade. With the new net-metering policies coming into place, solar makes a lot of sense for a lot of customers, including educational institutions. These campuses have enough rooftop space and day time power consumption for most of the year.”

Citing the instances of states such as West Bengal, Maharashtra and Gujarat, renewable energy consultant S P Gon Chaudhuri states that they have solar rooftops and are benefitting immensely from them. “Around 200 schools in West Bengal have already installed it and their electricity bills have reduced drastically. Moreover, the excess power generated through solar can also be pushed back into the grid.”

“MPs and MLAs too can provide money from their respective funds to install solar in schools, colleges and universities across India,” Gon Chaudhuri adds. “The present energy consumption in a school costs almost 10% of its budget. But, with the installation of rooftop solar, it can come down to 5%.”