India’s solar experience lights way for Africa

India has a good track record in solar power installations - but its record of rooftop solar plant installations is relatively poor.

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Spirited government intervention is needed to recharge the rooftop solar plant movement across India.

India’s ratification of the Paris Climate Change Agreement commits it to sweeping cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and one of main ways of meeting them are solar power plants. 

India has a good track record in solar power installations – 8GW in six years, with a promise of another 8GW in a year – but its record of rooftop solar plant installations is relatively poor – to date, it has only 1GW of rooftop plants.

Since rooftop plants generate electricity right at the point of consumption, they do away with the need for transmission, which in turn cuts down on energy loss. They give plant owners independence from utility companies and insulate them from tariff hikes.

Installing rooftop solar plants at educational institutions and factory buildings alone would help generate 40GW. India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy estimates the market potential at 124GW. 

So why has rooftop solar not gained sufficient traction? The reason is the poor financial health of the utility companies.

In India, most electricity companies are owned by state governments. Political and social imperatives have led governments to provide cheaper power, or even free, to the poor and to farmers. These losses are cross-subsidised by higher tariffs on commercial and industrial establishments.

Even so, most of the utilities are broke. To hold on to their paying customers, the utility companies effectively disincentivise these establishments from installing rooftop solar plants – by refusing to buy any surplus power from them.

India has committed to ensuring that by 2030, 40% of energy consumed in the country will come from non-fossil fuel sources. This would require some 320GW of renewable energy capacity, so rooftop solar has a key role.

Upendra Tripathy, secretary in the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, says the government has promised to compensate distribution companies for any revenue loss. There are also suggestions from the industry that rooftop plant owners could be asked to pay the utilities a fee. 

M Ramesh, Hindu Business Line

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