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Policy push can help Gurugram up its solar capacity from 25MW to 200MW

It is imperative to popularise solar power at the household level. For this, work needs to be done to demystify solar power, improve understanding about it and update people on relevant government policies.

gurgaon Updated: Oct 30, 2018 13:58 IST
gurugram,solar power,HAREDA
A rooftop-­installed solar power plant on a Gurugram high­rise.(HT File Photo )

Gurugram has all that it takes to become a “solar rooftop” city—loads of sun, a conducive policy environment, large buildings, and above all, a progressive mindset. Installations across the city have, in fact, risen sharply in the last two years across schools, colleges, RWAs, hospitals, corporate and commercial buildings, industry and individual homes. The installed solar rooftop capacity in the city has crossed the 25MW mark (8MW is grid-connected, while the rest is off the grid), but the city’s real rooftop potential is well over 200MW.

The call for solar is loud and clear. Cities urgently need to opt for greener and cleaner energy to control pollution levels. Solar power can decrease significantly, if not eliminate, the reliance on expensive and highly polluting DG (diesel generator) sets. It also partly saturates the rising electricity demand and the need for associated transmission infrastructure. Solar cost is low and falling (Rs 5-Rs 6 per unit), while the cost of grid power (Rs 7-Rs 8 per unit) and DG power (Rs14- Rs 22 per unit) are high and rising. The return on investment for solar is in three to four years, after that consumers can enjoy free electricity for the next 20 years or till the solar panels last. In fact, by putting their excess solar energy into the grid through net metering, one can actually earn too.

But for cities to up the ante on adoption of solar power, it is imperative to popularise solar power as a commodity at the household level. For this, substantial work needs to be done to demystify solar power, improve basic understanding of it and update people on government policies on solar power.

People seem to be carrying myths, misinformation and pre-conceived notions about solar power. It is considered as a hard-to-understand, fast-changing technology. The upfront cost seems daunting and the financing options appear limited. Besides, installation of and maintaining solar panels seems cumbersome. There is even resistance to use rooftops for solar panels as it may look “ugly”. Then, it’s a competitive market with too many vendors with little differentiation. Consumers often get perplexed comparing quotes from various vendors selling multiple qualities of products. Benchmark pricing and empanelment of vendors on government sites gives some indication, but not enough.

What will really help is clear and simple guidelines from a credible source on the complete process of going solar—from inspection of roofs for assessing the solar need to structuring and financing options to commissioning, and observations and measurements, including when and how to apply for subsidy. Besides, success stories highlighting cost savings, the installation and running experience needs to be showcased in workshops and solar melas (fairs) so that potential users gain confidence to take the plunge. Nothing can be more reassuring than listening to real experiences.

Citizen visits to National Institute of Solar Energy on the Gurugram-Faridabad Road to get acquainted with solar technology can be organised. Besides, Gurugram serves as headquarters to various solar companies that should provide courses on “solar basics” in schools, colleges and RWAs as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR).

By demystifying solar power, it could be promoted and popularised as a commodity or product rather than a project. This will remove the acquisition barriers to a large extent. (These days solar solution for homes is sold in a box with in-built subsidy and clearances. Such products are generating a lot of interest among residential consumers.)

The installation process, too, should be simplified with single-window clearances and seamless coordination among all agencies involved, such as HAREDA (department of renewable energy for subsidy) and DHBVN (for net metering). Since “net metering” is what adds the real attractiveness, availability of net meters, their speedy installation, and integration with billing systems need to be resolved at the earliest. In fact, the DHBVN should play a more proactive role in facilitating growth of solar power, much beyond simply providing the “net metering” functionality. As for HAREDA, it needs to have more capacity in creating awareness, coordinating and monitoring.

If all government buildings are run on solar power, it will have a huge demonstrative effect on citizens. Besides, RWAs can be encouraged to light up at least all their common areas, such as parking, parks etc, using solar power. Policies need to be more directed. On the one hand, mandatory provisions need to be implemented and monitored well, while on the other, new ways of incentivising solar panel installers need to be put in place.

The HUDA (renamed as Haryana Shahari Vikar Pradhikaran) should have more regulatory oversight to ensure that all new buildings install solar panels, as per the mandate. Innovative policies such as rent-a-roof policy or those that support community solar projects should also be put in place.

Most developed countries, such as Australia and Germany, started their solar programmes by targeting households and have a huge solar share under the rooftop segment. India, on the other hand, like China, has bulk of solar power under utility.

Gurugram will become a solar city in the true sense when homes and residential communities make the solar switch.

(Shubhra Puri is the founder of Gurgaon First, a citizen initiative to promote sustainability in Gurugram through workshops and research books)

First Published: Oct 30, 2018 13:56 IST