Issues around Rooftop Solar Installations

The central government has set up an ambitious target of harnessing 100 GW of solar power by 2022. Out of 100 GW, 60GW of power has been planned to be harnessed from utilities like solar parks and ultra mega solar power projects, and 40GW from rooftop solar installations. The way the country has progressed in solar energy sector, it seems the 60 GW target seems plausible. But the country is lagging behind in achieving the 40 GW target set for rooftop solar installations.

Background

The future of renewable energy in India largely depends upon achieving the ambitious solar power target set by the country. Under the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) of the Paris Agreement, India has committed to increase the electricity generation from clean energy sources to 40% by 2030. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has already approved a total of 34 solar parks with a total capacity of 20 GW in 21 different states.

What is rooftop solar? How they are beneficial?

Roof top solar installations are photo-voltaic system that can be installed on the roofs or buildings for generating electricity. They are being installed both on top of commercial buildings and residential complexes.

Roof top solar installations help in providing an alternative eco-friendly source of electricity without depleting our fossil fuels. These installations are also helpful in augmenting the grid supply in places where they are erratic.

Rooftop solar installations are of immense help in those remote locations that are not yet connected to the grid.

What is the potential for rooftop solar in India?

According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, the market potential of rooftop is solar is 124 GW. But sadly, as of December 31, 2016, only 1,247 MW of capacity has been installed. This constitutes 3% of the target for 2022, and 1% of the potential.

Why the rooftop solar is not widely adopted in India?

One of the reasons is the variability in supply as the solar energy generation depends on the sunlight on any given day. Additionally, the solar energy is also not produced during the night. In fact generation of solar energy gets distorted during monsoons, dusts and storms. Arguably, night is the time when the off-grid locations need alternative sources of electricity. It can be argued that the problem can be solved by storing the electricity generated during the day time. But, the storage technology for electricity still remains underdeveloped and these storage solutions are expensive too. Barring few commercial establishments, most of the residential customers find the cost of installing rooftop solar panels and storage facilities to be expensive.

Another big challenge is that the total maximum capacity of a solar power plant is never met to its fullest. The capacity utilisation factor (CUF), which is the real output of solar plant is always less when compared to plant’s theoretical maximum output. CUF is presented as a percentage of the installed capacity of a plant. According to the MNRE’s data released in 2013, India’s CUF of solar photovoltaic is only between 11-31%.

The residential areas also have some issues related to use restrictions of the roof. It is because the roof used for solar power generation cannot be used for anything else.

Another major challenge is the unenviable current electricity tariff structure. Many states follow net metering policy that allows the power producers to sell excess electricity to the grid. However, the subsidised tariff charged to residential customers simply undermines the economic viability of installing rooftop solar panels. The cost incurred always outweighs the profits. Though the government schemes provides for 30% subsidy, the lofty costs of solar panels overrides the benefits in the eyes of customers.

Conclusion

The growth of rooftop solar is relatively low in India. As of October 2016, rooftop solar contributes only to around 1GW of generated solar power. Increasing this figure to 40 GW in the next five years will be a highly ambitious task for the government. With the import of more and cheaper solar panels, the installation costs are expected to decline. In fact, commercial applications of rooftop solar are already widely visible in many states.

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