A Dearth of Ideas

Jonas Hamberg's picture

Delhi needs to critically rethink its move to abandon roof top solar scheme

In many countries it is now possible to feed electricity from solar roof top systems into the grid. What that means is you put up a solar photovoltaic (PV) panel on your roof and when it produces more electricity than you need you can sell it to your utility for a fixed price. The consumer becomes a producer and one can actually make money instead of paying the electricity bills. This mechanism is called 'net-metering'. This also does away with the need for expensive and not so clean battery storage systems.

The net-metering system needs newer more advanced electricity meters but is otherwise quite simple and has been tried not only in western countries but also, for example, in Nelson Mandela Bay district in South Africa.

In the end of last year the Ministry for Renewable Energy (MNRE) asked the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) to work out a protocol for how to adopt net-metering in India (http://panchabuta.com/2011/12/22/mnre-has-asked-the-cea-to-develop-a-pro...).

However, the Delhi state government recently seems to have given up on the plans for roof-top solar feeding power to the grid (http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-02-09/news/31042125_1_... ). The idea was to have 1 MW of solar systems up on roof-tops of buildings in the capital but part of the plan has been scrapped for fears that people with solar PV systems may run diesel or gas generators instead to feed power into the grid and profit from any difference.

The risk of some installers trying to get undue gains from the policy is something that must be kept in mind but by admitting defeat it seems as if the Delhi Government is just out of ideas. If the risk is production from alternate sources such as diesel, then there must be other ways to address the weakness.

It would not be impossible to at least check once when a system is installed as new meters would anyway have to be installed by utilities. Since the cost of solar is almost all in the investment of buying the actual module there would be little incentive for producing from diesel when the cost is already sunk in the solar module.

A cap on how much can be fed, calculated on the basis of the capacity of the solar module (and its efficiency), would make any gains from cheating and using diesel miniscule. Periodical checks on the solar modules when the utilities are checking the meter could perhaps deter people from buying the modules and then selling them on. Panels that cannot be disconnected without the net-meter switching off could be a possibility as well.

With plummeting costs for Solar and rising Diesel prices in India, we are anyways reaching a point where Solar is sometimes cheaper than Diesel and then the incentive to profit may be nil. (http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-02-07/solar-cheaper-than-diesel-ma...).

The above ideas are by no way the best ones out there but at least, we believe solutions are out there. Admitting defeat to would-be tricksters is not the way forward for Delhi or for the country. What’s more, generating power at the consumer’s point in these buildings reduces the huge transmission and distribution losses which the country’s electricity sector currently faces. We need the input of the public to start the discussion on how to make every entity a clean energy producer which is available in abundance.

PS. Check out how you can produce your own solar or biogas energy right now at: http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/node/347953

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