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Why sun is shining on solar power

Power cuts have not gone away, the electricity tariff is still on the higher side, but Punjab is finally reaping the sun’s bounty.

Why sun is shining on solar power

The UT Administration recently used a drone for getting an aerial view of the solar rooftop projects in Chandigarh.



By Ruchika M. Khanna

Power cuts have not gone away, the electricity tariff is still on the higher side, but Punjab is finally reaping the sun’s bounty. It has received national accolades for being the only state to have increased its solar power generation by over 175 megawatt in a year. Since 2012, when it came out with a new policy, Punjab has increased its solar power generation from 9 MW to 235 MW. 

From solar photovoltaic power projects and individual solar power generation under net metering to rooftop solar projects; from canal solar projects to tapping reservoirs for solar power generation — Punjab is now at the forefront of the solar power push sweeping the country. 

The Government of India wants to install 100 gigawatts of solar power by 2022. The country is being regarded as one of the most exciting solar markets, helped by the rapidly improving commercial viability of solar photovoltaic technology. By exploiting the solar power potential, the Centre aims to provide power to all citizens by 2019. As of now, 30 crore Indians do not have access to grid power. 

Dedicated transmission corridors are being set up and the renewable energy certificate regime is being rationalised. While some glitches have been witnessed in the Central policy implementation, especially going slow on bundling renewable energy with coal power to make renewable power cheaper for state utilities, states like Punjab are setting targets for solar power generation. They are ensuring that state power utilities buy solar power; and are exploiting each avenue for setting up units. 

Though solar power technology is well established, most of the research and development is happening outside of India. So the cost of generation continues to be high. Reducing it is the biggest challenge for solar power to be viable for use by individual consumers.

Land on lease

Punjab’s Minister for Renewable Energy Bikram Singh Majithia says most states have been seeking investment in less than 2-MW projects, “but our plan to set up projects with higher generation has paid off”.

Known for relying solely on thermal generation, Punjab produces over 200 MW of solar photovoltaic power. “The target is to increase the generation to 4,200 MW by 2020,” says Majithia. When Punjab launched the solar policy in 2012, the state had assured investors that it would assist them to set up projects by getting land on lease from farmers. Most solar projects that have been commissioned in the state have taken land on lease from farmers for a 30-year period. These companies are giving an annual appreciation of almost 5 per cent on the lease amount, thus making it a win-win situation for all stakeholders, says Vijay Singh, general manager of Azure Power, which has set up 34-MW solar power projects in Punjab. 

Considering the ease of setting up power projects, he says, his company is now looking at expanding the project to produce 500 MW of solar power. 

The lease amount is generally 5-10 per cent more than for giving land on lease for agriculture purposes. The government policy also specifies that any land can be taken for setting up a solar project after getting the land use changed. In case of rooftop generation, the solar panels can be set up on a flat roof or on sheds. The only consideration is that there should be no shadow on the roof and that the panels get substantial sunlight all through the day. 

Rs 7.72 a unit notified for producers 

The Punjab State Electricity Regulatory Commission has notified a rate of Rs 7.72 per unit which the power corporation pays to solar power producers to get a unit of electricity. Most companies that have signed a power purchase agreement with the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) are getting between Rs 7.20 and Rs 8.75 per unit. As a result, Punjab is among 13 states that have achieved financial viability for commercial and industrial use of power (though with accelerated depreciation). 

The financial viability for domestic consumers, however, is still a far cry as domestic power tariffs in the country are highly subsidised — much below the cost of solar power production. A research by Bridge to India shows that as against the cost of solar power production of over Rs 8 per unit in Punjab, the grid tariff is about Rs 6 per unit for domestic consumers. This will improve once more solar energy is produced. And luckily for Punjab, the state’s nodal agency for solar power generation, Punjab Energy Development Authority (PEDA), is doing just that. 

A consumer would not know whether the power he gets is from solar or thermal generation. The solar power generated is transmitted through an 11-KVA line (in case generation is 1 MW-2.5 MW) or a 66-KVA line (if it is a bigger plant) from the solar plant to the nearest substation. The cost of laying this transmission line is to be borne by the developer. He can either erect his own line or get it done from PSPCL, after paying the costs. From the substation, power is generated to all consumers.

Under the net metering policy in the state — consumers with small solar installations can sell surplus power to the grid at the same price as they pay for power flowing in — individual consumers who have set up rooftop solar plants can use the power they generate daily. This would be adjusted against their power bills. 

Rooftop power generation

After launching its rooftop power policy for both net metering and commercial production last year, the state is looking at generating 100 MW of rooftop solar power in the next one year. Last month, Punjab allotted rooftop solar project contracts to three companies and a prominent religious dera. These companies will together generate 65 MW of power, and commercial generation — after rooftop solar power plants have been set up — is expected to start between December to March next year.

The Radha Soami dera, which produces 21 MW of solar power, would start rooftop power generation too. It will produce 12 MW for gross metering (to be sold to power utility) and another 12 MW for net metering (self-consumption). Acme Solar, which has got approval to produce 30 MW of rooftop solar power, will be leasing farmland and will grow exotic vegetables under one roof, using the rooftop for solar power generation. Manoj Kumar Upadhyay, chairman of Acme Solar, claims this will be the biggest rooftop solar project in the country. 

Canals, reservoirs next

Bikram Singh Majithia says the state has a potential of 1,500-MW solar power on canals and reservoirs. The government is already in talks with a British company to set up a project on the canal system. It is also encouraging farmers to form cooperatives and install small (2.5 MW) rooftop projects, while continuing to use their land for growing crops.

UT tops in solar rooftop projects in govt category

  • Chandigarh officially became a Model Solar City in 2013 when then Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy Dr Farooq Abdullah launched the project with the inauguration of two rooftop solar photovoltaic power plants. The UT has recently revised its solar power generation target from 10 MW to 30 MW by the end of 2022.
  • The city has installed 5-MW total capacity rooftop plants over 50 government buildings. It plans to install 10-MW plants over the next five years. Solar projects are to be installed on rooftops of the Inter-State Bus Terminus in sectors 17 and 43, MC water works and multi-level parking lot in Sector 17 in this financial year. 
  • In the latest report released by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, the Chandigarh Administration stands first in the installation of solar rooftop projects in the government category. Chandigarh ranks third in the overall list, which also includes private and government sanctioned projects.
  • In the overall installation, including projects installed through their own resources and private parties, Chandigarh stands third. Overall, Gujarat stands first and Punjab second. — Rajinder Nagarkoti 

DYNAMICS OF A SOLAR POWER PROJECT

  • What you need: Roof or open space of 120 square feet to place the panels on metal frames, for a 1-KW power plant.
  • Power produced: I-KW plant produces 1,500 units in a year. It is sufficient to run three fans, four lights, refrigerator, television and computer.  
  • System components: Solar photovoltaic panels on the roof, an inverter,  suitable battery for solar charging. A solar battery costs about Rs 10,000. 
  • How long will system work: Life of a solar power plant is at least 25 years, with a power production ability degrading slightly, beginning 10th year onwards. 
  • Subsidy: Centre used to provide 30% subsidy till March 31, which is now proposed to be 15% since price of panels has come down. PEDA got 900 applications to set up units in March.

No private takers in HP 

The Himachal Pradesh government notified its solar energy policy in March last year, but has got a poor response since hydro energy is available for just Rs 2.70 per unit and the space needed for the solar panels remains a major constraint in the hill state. Himurja, a state-run agency, is focusing on installing small rooftop projects on government buildings and for streetlighting in Shimla and others towns. It gives 30 per cent subsidies on small solar projects to private investors, but has got few takers. Even the proposed green energy corridor from Leh to Keylong and Spiti is yet to take off. Himurja has set up a 6.5-KW plant on the HP Secretariat building, while a 20-KW plant is being installed at the Vidhan Sabha. HPSEBL is not buying solar energy because of the high cost. — Kuldeep Chauhan 

Cost: A 1-KW system costs Rs 85,000 to Rs 1 lakh, depending on choice of product. Solar panels are assembled in India, but the circuits are imported from China, Taiwan, Germany and Japan.

My target was to woo players to invest in bigger solar power projects. While most states have been seeking investment in under 2-MW projects, our plan to set up projects with higher generation has paid off. At the close of the last fiscal, the state had commissioned 21 private solar power projects, which together produce 237 MW of power

—Bikram Singh Majithia, Renewable Energy Minister, Punjab


Rooftop solar systems must in Haryana by Sept 

Pradeep Sharma

Power-starved Haryana is waking up to solar energy in a bid to meet its power shortage. The Haryana Solar Power Policy 2014 aims to encourage large and small-scale grid-connected  photovoltaic systems  by eliminating various fees and charges. The government has created a Green Energy Fund under the control of the Haryana Renewable Energy Development Agency (HAREDA), an agency that falls under the purview of the state’s Department of Renewable Energy, to accelerate development of solar power projects across the state by offering solar incentives. Haryana aims to have 1,300 MW of installed solar generation capacity by 2022.

 Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has already expressed his intention to replicate the Gujarat solar model in Haryana. “It is the duty of the government to generate enough power, but instead of generating coal-based electricity, it is high time we switch over to natural resources such as solar and wind energy,” says Khattar.

 With that in mind, the  Haryana government has decided to give a major push to the solar energy initiatives by making  it mandatory for all buildings on a plot size of 500 square yards or more to install rooftop solar power systems by September. The order will be applicable to private bungalows, group housing societies, builder apartments, malls, offices, commercial complexes, schools, hospitals — any building, new or old, that meets the plot size criteria. A 30 per cent subsidy on installation on “a first-come-first-served” basis is being offered. 

The private sector has also started chipping in. Recently, Khattar commissioned a Rs 35-crore solar power plant of 5 MW capacity spread over 24 acres at Mithi village in Bhiwani district.


Huge potential, but J&K a ‘non-performer’

Sumit  Hakhoo 

Even as the renewable energy sector in other parts of India is progressing fast, Jammu and Kashmir has emerged as a “non-performer” to develop and utilise  solar power.   

J&K, it is estimated, has a potential of producing 111 gigawatts of power through renewable sources, with Ladakh region (Leh and Kargil) as one of the hotspots due to the ratio of direct sunlight it gets because of the altitude. 

A National Institute of Solar Energy (NISR) document reveals that India has a solar power potential of 750 GW and Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir could contribute half the power. 

In 2014, the then Omar Abdullah-led government signed a pact with the Government of India for development of mega solar power projects in Ladakh (2,500 MW in Kargil and 5,000 MW in Leh), but it is progressing at a snail’s pace. 

J&K introduced a solar policy in 2013 with a host of incentives for private power producers to set up solar, hydel, wind and thermal projects of any size. However, the lack of investment and poor transmission facilities are major hurdles keeping away the public and private investors. 

A tax holiday for power generation and distribution companies, easy availability of cheap loans, reduction of customs duty for the import of equipment are some of the incentives provided to those interested in investment. J&K Energy Development Agency is the implementing agency. 

The notable achievements under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission has been the commissioning of solar power plants of 15-KW capacity in 60 district and sub-district hospitals; 100 Community Information Centres have also been provided with such plants, besides a 100-KW plant at University of Kashmir and 90-KW at J&K Institute for Management & Public Administration, Sidhara.

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