With new pol­icy, TN hopes to usher in sun­shine in en­ergy sec­tor

Sunday Express - - SUNDAY STORY - MADHUMITHA VISWANATH

AF­TER a pe­riod of six years, the Tamil Nadu govern­ment has come up with its sec­ond so­lar pol­icy for 2018. The ini­tial frame­work of the draft sports a con­sumer­friendly ap­proach to so­lar en­ergy and has more ben­e­fits for the com­mon man who in­vests in so­lar en­ergy.

In the draft pol­icy, the govern­ment has set a tar­get that is four times higher than its ex­ist­ing in­stalled ca­pac­ity of 2365MW. Un­like the pre­vi­ous pol­icy rolled out in 2012, the cur­rent one fo­cuses more on pro­duc­ing so­lar en­ergy on a non-com­mer­cial ba­sis, that is, through rooftop in­stal­la­tions in res­i­den­tial build­ings. One of the govern­ment’s main goals is to achieve 40 per cent of its to­tal tar­get of 8,884 MW solely through so­lar rooftops on homes. The draft pol­icy talks about mak­ing so­lar en­ergy a main­stream en­ergy source in Tamil Nadu by 2022.

Once the pol­icy is fi­nalised by the govern­ment, it will be in place for the next five years. The back­log from the pre­vi­ous pol­icy also will be achieved along with new tar­gets, said of­fi­cials from state agen­cies.

Ex­perts opine that, as the state is blessed with am­ple amounts of sun­shine, with close to 300 sunny days a year, the cur­rent tar­gets though am­bi­tious can be achieved. But suf­fi­cient in­fra­struc­ture to sup­port gen­er­a­tion of so­lar en­ergy should be made avail­able first.

Mul­ti­ple is­sues

The two ma­jor govern­ment schemes put forth in 2012 — in­stal­la­tion of so­lar rooftops in three lakh houses and en­er­giz­ing one lakh street­lights through so­lar power — are in­com­plete. The projects to­gether needed an in­vest­ment of ap­prox­i­mately `2500 crore, but only 40 per cent progress has been made. “There is no point in set­ting tar­gets if im­ple­men­ta­tion is not mon­i­tored by the govern­ment. A state which pro­vides elec­tric­ity at 30-40 per cent sub­sidy has not been able to set up so­lar rooftops at even 3,000 houses in six years,” said Raghu­nathan KE, founder of Solkar So­lar In­dus­try Ltd and pres­i­dent of All In­dia Man­u­fac­tur­ers or­gan­i­sa­tion.

The main fo­cus of the 2012 pol­icy was to gen­er­ate 3,000 MW of so­lar en­ergy by 2015. But mul­ti­ple fac­tors, like high mar­ket price of so­lar power, in­ad­e­quate tech­no­log­i­cal sup­port and shift in the method of bid­ding for so­lar en­ergy, acted as de­ter­rents.

An­other ma­jor draw­back of the pol­icy was the struc­tur­ing of net credit, a sys­tem where the cur­rent bill is re­duced pro­por­tion­ally to the ex­port of so­lar power without tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the cost of power at peak hours. This re­sulted in heavy losses to the dis­com (Tangedco). “Dur­ing peak hours, a unit of power might cost `16, but so­lar power was still pegged at `3. When a con­sumer gen­er­ated so­lar power, they did not have to pay the dif­fer­ence be­tween this and their cur­rent bill,” said Vishnu K, mem­ber of the Ci­ti­zen Con­sumer and Civic Ac­tion Group (CAG). Also in 2012, Tangedco and the Tamil Nadu En­ergy De­vel­op­ment Agency (TEDA) had many is­sues in terms of clar­ity over this sys­tem, which acted as a con­straint in in­stalling net me­ters, said Vikram Ka­pur, Chair­man of Tangedco. “Now, we have pro­posed an al­ter­na­tive for­mu­la­tion to shift from ‘net-onunit’ to ‘net-on-value’, so that dif­fer­ences in en­ergy im­ported and ex­ported will be paid to the con­sumer,” he said.

What’s new

On the other hand, of­fi­cials point out that due to tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments, fu­ture tar­gets for so­lar rooftop in­stal­la­tions, cou­pled with pend­ing tar­gets from the pre­vi­ous pol­icy, can be com­fort­ably achieved in the next four years. “In the present sce­nario, in terms of pol­icy-mak­ing and im­ple­men­ta­tion, we have more sup­port from the cen­tral govern­ment,” said an of­fi­cial from TEDA. Also, the cur­rent pol­icy lays ex­tra em­pha­sis on so­lar rooftops to be set up in res­i­den­tial build­ings and com­mon places like schools, col­leges and govern­ment build­ings, un­like the 2012 pol­icy.

Ac­cord­ing to data ac­cessed by Ex­press, 90 per cent of so­lar power gen­er­ated in the state till date has been through large so­lar parks and com­mer­cial scale gen­er­a­tors. While the state has 193 large-scale so­lar gen­er­a­tors which pro­duce 2,221 MW, only 8,000 rooftops have been in­stalled, gen­er­at­ing 144MW.

While the costs of so­lar pan­els or mod­ules have re­duced dras­ti­cally, the over­all at­mo­sphere is more con­ducive for the com­mon man to in­vest in so­lar en­ergy. Ex­perts said as the de­mand has come down, the mar­ket price also has fallen by three folds since 2012. “Pre­vi­ously, peo­ple had to shell out `4 lakh to in­stall a 1 KW (Kilo­watt) rooftop panel. Now, it costs just `1 lakh. In 2012, one watt of the panel cost `250, but now it’s `30. But prices are bound to go up again due to scarcity of ma­te­ri­als as more peo­ple are opt­ing for so­lar en­ergy now,” said Raghu­nathan.

Also the cost of so­lar power has come down dras­ti­cally in the last five years and it is now cheaper than ther­mal power. In 2012, one unit of so­lar power cost `12, whereas one unit of ther­mal power cost `7. But six years down the line, a unit of so­lar power costs be­tween `3 and `5, while ther­mal power costs al­most `10.

The new pol­icy also gives dif­fer­ent op­tions for the way in which so­lar power can be fed back into the grid, which dif­fers for con­sumers and pri­vate de­vel­op­ers. The method of vir­tual net feed-in is unique to this pol­icy, and has re­ceived praise. “In this method, peo­ple who don’t have ter­race space to put up pan­els can avail so­lar ben­e­fits by shar­ing the power gen­er­ated by a com­mon panel,” said Di­nesh.

The pol­icy also has other ben­e­fi­cial fea­tures, like in­di­ca­tors in trans­form­ers to mon­i­tor ca­pac­ity of so­lar power that it can with­stand. Per­cent­age of power that can be set to the trans­former has been in­creased from 30 to 120, and an on­line data­base for stor­ing in­for­ma­tion about distri­bu­tion li­censes has been pro­posed. Ad­di­tion­ally, charges that were levied in the pre­vi­ous pol­icy for bank­ing and wheel­ing of so­lar power, that is trans­port­ing gen­er­ated power to de­sired des­ti­na­tion from so­lar plants, have been erased.

Mean­while, of­fi­cials say the tech­ni­cal­ity be­hind find­ing a bal­ance be­tween ther­mal and so­lar power is very cru­cial. “Max­i­mum load is re­quired only af­ter 6 pm. In this case, we have to use so­lar en­ergy in the morn­ing and ther­mal at night. But ther­mal plants are 40 years old and con­stant ramp­ing up and bring­ing down of load will re­duce the life of such plants. Gen­er­at­ing a spec­i­fied quan­tum of so­lar power is pos­si­ble, but find­ing a way such that it doesn’t desta­bi­lize the grid is cru­cial,” said Ka­pur.

Small plants of one to five MW can be in­stalled and through this, peo­ple can mar­ket so­lar power within each pan­chayat. A pri­vatepub­lic part­ner­ship can also be devel­oped through this. So­lar en­ergy is the only nat­u­ral re­source that is flex­i­ble enough to be gen­er­ated in­di­vid­u­ally

R Chris­to­das Gandhi, For­mer chair­man of TEDA

What ex­perts want

The pol­icy also states that by April 2019, in­stru­ments known as bi-di­rec­tional me­ters, which mea­sure so­lar power gen­er­ated and elec­tric­ity con­sumed at the same time, will re­place or­di­nary me­ters that cal­cu­late only units of power con­sumed. These me­tres will be fit­ted on build­ings that have rooftop pan­els. But ex­perts sug­gest that such me­ters must be made freely avail­able in the mar­ket without Tangedco’s in­ter­ven­tion.

“Once net me­ters are tested and cer­ti­fied, they must be freely avail­able. Now Tangedco is the sole au­thor­ity that sells it. They should al­low pri­vate com­pa­nies to pro­duce and sell them,” said Di­nesh NS, chair­man of Soot Less En­ergy, a so­lar power en­ergy in­staller. So­lar de­vel­op­ers and ex­perts said that more em­pha­sis must be given to in­sti­tu­tions like hos­pi­tals, pris­ons, pan­chay­ats, in­dus­trial ar­eas and pri­mary health care cen­tres which work around the year. “Ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions only work for 220 days a year. and so­lar parks have prob­lems like pro­cure­ment of land and high power loss. All this can be avoided by go­ing the de­cen­tralised way,” added Raghu­nathan.

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