Viability of Rooftop Solar in India and Best Way to a Rapidly Progressive Future

Country wide solar adoption depends upon growth in awareness and involving the common man. Understanding this, the Government of India has focused on rooftop solar development while taking enormous leaps in utility scale solar installations. It is important to note that India has a rooftop solar energy generation potential of 124 GW (current total energy generation 330 GW). And even if only 1.3% of India’s total households (total 248,408,494) are solarized with rooftop technology, more than 30% of that estimated energy capacity can be harnessed.

And with solar tariffs standing at record low INR 2.44 /Kw (lower than conventional energy tariff), this presents an incredible opportunity for the country to quickly grow their rooftop capacities. Let us list the viability that rooftop solar brings to the table to validate the importance of rapid rooftop solarisation within India.

Feasibility of Rooftop Solar Plants

Although, India’s utility scale solar installations can add humongous amount of solar capacities at one go (e.g- 648 MW capacity plant at Kamuthi, Tamil Nadu), they require huge spread of land, which by the way India doesn’t have, considering the increasing population (1.34 bn in 2017). Additionally, utility solar installations require well developed infrastructure to connect the harvested energy to the grid. On the other hand, when we are talking about rooftop solar installations, the cost of land and required infrastructure seems to be only a fraction of the utility scale solar installations.

In the same breath, we need to point out that long life span of solar modules (27 years avg.) and low maintenance requirement of solar technology actually helps rooftop solar users to get benefits of green energy for decades without burning a hole in their wallets.

It is true that utility based installations are now leading Indian solar sector. But, it is the future of rooftop solar that can offer faster solarisation of a country, while reducing the electricity bills of the consumer (consumers pays less to utility), and allowing them to produce and even sell energy.

With Net-metering schemes (which 36 states and UTs have identified and in different stage of implementation), consumers can sell the excess energy to the grid, becoming energy reliant. And when each household becomes energy reliant, India vision of energy security will definitely get realized.

Understanding the potential, Government of India has mandated solar installations in PSUs/institutions, and new Government building in many states. Brought in new investment opportunities (setting up US$1.5 billion fund for grid connected rooftop installation by SBI, IREDA, PNB and World Bank). Offering 30% capital subsidy to residential and not-for-profit institutional investors. And all this effort has resulted in ~1.7 GW rooftop solar capacity. However, challenges still remain.

The Challenges

India has reached ~1.7 GW rooftop solar capacity within a short time span. However, the proposed target of 40 GW by 2022 is still far away and would require a faster adoption framework.

Although Government is providing subsidies to encourage rooftop solar installations, the financial support is only available after commissioning of the plant. Therefore, it befalls upon the consumer to bear the initial investment. Besides, there are some discrepancies and delays in getting the subsidies after commissioning a plant, which only creates problems for the consumer.

It is a fact that Indian Government is actively focusing on generating fund for rooftop growth. But, to reach more than 95% of the remaining targeted capacity (40 GW) within next 5 years, the fund generation has to be boosted.

Also with states of India coming up with their own rooftop policies (maintaining the central guidelines) it has become challenging to evaluate and compare the state wise rooftop solar growth in India.

Net-metering also doesn’t have required clarity on implementation models. And requirement for multiple permissions, lack of awareness within the utility stuff and the consumers is creating a huge challenge to meet installation targets.

In regards of consumer awareness, India needs to disclose information about cost, benefits, and important information to go solar. Campaigns are being organized by National Solar Energy Federation of India (NSEFI) and MNRE to raise awareness, but more is needed to reach the set target.

Lastly, clarity on policies is needed. It will explain the functionality of the policies and help consumers and developers to go for rooftop installations.

Way Forward

Offering easy financing options, faster delivery of subsidies, setting up a larger fund for rooftop, bringing in a uniform rooftop policy and mandating states to follow for easier evaluation, offering information through television, radio and other media platforms, will help India realize its full rooftop solar potential.

Involving common men in the fold is the fastest way to solarize the country, and rooftop solar brings that opportunity to us. This is the right time to enhance and expand the solar sector, when the demand, innovation, and investment on solar is high. So, India should utilize this opportunity and focus on country wide rooftop solar installations to become the green energy super power it aspires to be.