Gurugram all set to fully harness power of sun
Since the city installed its first solar power panel under its grid-connected solar rooftop policy, Haryana Solar Power policy, in 2016, it has recorded a 135% increase in power generation, say officials at Haryana Department of Renewable Energy. Its current daily production of 40MW is up from the 17MW it produced in 2016-17.This rise has been fuelled not just by corporates, schools, hotels and condominiums actively turning to solar energy, but also by individual citizens who are taking the green way to power future generations to reduce their dependency on the state grid.
SS Arora, a 63-year-old retired businessman, had always been a solar enthusiast. When he installed a solar water heater at his Sector 10A residence in 2000, he says his neighbours laughed. They questioned his decision to invest in such an expensive water heater when electric geysers were available for Rs 2,000. Almost 19 years later, his terrace is now covered with solar panels with the capacity to produce 5.5KW of power.
“These panels are going to last me longer than 25 years. In the meantime my electricity bill will be reduced to a negligible amount. I will also recover my initial investment of Rs 3 lakh in three years,” he says. His panels produce almost 30 units of power daily. This production is tracked by a state certified net meter.
A net meter is a bidirectional meter that counts the power produced by an on-grid solar photovoltaic system as well as the power it imports from the electricity grid when it falls short of meeting consumption demands.
Long term benefits of solar PV panel systems are driving an increasing number of city residents to install them on their rooftops. Currently, over 727 net meters have been installed across the city since 2016, according to data provided by the Dakshin Haryana Bijli Vitran Nigam (DHBVN).
Low electricity bills, easy maintenance, an opportunity to earn from the power produced, and utilising idle terrace space have become driving motivators. The state records online applications from almost 8-10 citizens daily for installing solar power plants at their residences.
The city’s current solar production of 40MW a day accounts for only 2% of its peak load.
Gurugram project officer Rameshwar Singh says the demands for net meters is high as the Department of New and Renewable Energy receives applications to install solar panels on its portal every day. A benchmark subsidy of 30% offered for residential installations is also aiding the drive. “We recently got fresh subsidy funds from the government to the tune of Rs 4 crore. These will primarily be given to consumers who applied for it earlier (before March 31, 2018),” Singh says.
The push for solar energy at the domestic level, however, is plagued by the slow release of subsidies and frugal issuance of net meters.
Naresh Mehlawat, a 64-year-old resident of Sector 15, installed his solar panels almost 13 months ago. He is yet to receive his subsidy but for now he is happy to pay Rs 8,000 every two months for his electricity bill—quite a reduction from his earlier bills of almost Rs 20,000 (per month in the summer). “Solar panels are a great option for middle-class people. It is almost no maintenance, you just splash some water on the panels and they are clean. A few months back the fuse of the setup got burnt. Since it was under guarantee period, it was replaced free of cost,” he says.
Arora too had been a victim of solar panels lying idle because net meters were not issued. His solar panels lay idle for more than 15 months before they were connected to the grid. In anticipation of not receiving a net meter, Arora had even constructed an additional tin shed on his terrace to accommodate batteries to help store the generated power in an off-grid system.
“I made a shed for storing the batteries for an off-grid setup when I was almost on the brink of believing I would never get a net meter. But it was eventually issued in December last year,” says the solar enthusiast. The wooden racks in the shed now hold empty paint buckets, rags and unused construction materials.
Ashok Nehra, director of Enfrosun, a company which has installed over 60 solar rooftop panels at residencies in the past one year, says, “Net meters have become a bottleneck in the solar rooftop movement. The release of net meters is very slow and is one of the biggest hindrances that we face.”
While officials at the DHBVN admit to the delay in the release of net meters, they don’t have an answer as to why everybody has been facing said delay. Rameshwar Singh, project officer, Haryana Renewable Energy Development Agency (HAREDA), says that the department is working to bring a solution to such issues. “Once that is done, there will be more takers for solar panels,” he says, adding that new applications are not being accepted for now.
“We received instructions to stop accepting applications for solar panels on our website from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. It was a decision the ministry took,” says HAREDA top official, Rameshwar Tirthan.
“We stopped accepting applications on our website since June 20. Discoms will take over the process. A circular from the government is awaited,” he said.
An increasing number of net meters in the city also means authorities need to update its workers on reading these meters, says Arora. He alleges that the calculation of the power produced and the power withdrawn from the system is often not clear for a lot of officials that come to residences for meter reading. “My bills have reduced but the authorities are not very clear about the billing,” he adds.
Despite the initial hiccups since the city installed its first solar panel in February 2016, residents, for now, are happy to simply see their power bills go down.
“For the past two months my bills have been nil. The rate at which I withdraw power from the grid and the price I get for adding power to the grid is the same. So naturally, this is a system that is beneficial for us,” says city resident Banwari Lal, Rewari project officer at the department of New & Renewable Energy.
Shweta Mariam Koshy, a senior associate researcher at Centre for Science and Environment, has been closely assisting the state in developing models that make solar energy more accessible to the common man. She says both economic and environmental benefits are driving more residents to take up solar power.
“People are slowly warming up to the idea of solar power in Gurugram. We recently held a meeting with residents’ welfare association (RWA) heads in the city and it received a good response. Representatives from almost 150 RWAs attended the event,” she says.