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Cover Story | November 2015

At Rs.6-7/kWh, user benefits without any investment

Sanjeev Aggarwal, CEO & MD, Amplus Solar

How do solar installation and production costs compare with conventional techniques?
Solar power is now available at Rs 5 or Rs 6, having come down significantly. But it all depends on how all the logistics are developed around that and ultimately how effectively the benefits are passed on to the consumer. Even as I am delivering the power at Rs 5 or Rs 6 per unit/kWh, if the consumer has to pay Rs 8 or Rs 9 then what sense does it make? Instead it is better for the consumer to generate the power himself and pay about Rs 7 per unit. We supply the same solar power at Rs 6 or Rs 7 from the rooftop plant, including all costs.

What initiatives to increase awareness among citizens?
As an industry, we always reach out to people to tell them about the benefits from installation of solar plants at rooftop. But the government also should promote it, by issuing advertisements highlighting advantages of solar rooftop. It is not just education, but people are not even aware of the fact that we offer power supply with an installation at their end and without any capital cost from their side, on a pay-as-you-go basis or as you utilise it. It is a great advantage even for people who cannot afford installation costs. It is the question of the industry taking shape.

How does ´pay-as-you-go´ model work?
The rooftop solar plants are set up entirely at the cost of the installer, which are also maintained by them throughout the project term, which may be for a period of 15-25 years. A PPA is signed fixing the electricity price for the whole tenure, and on expiry of PPA, the plant is transferred free of cost (usually, `1) to the client. Billing is done every month on the basis of actual energy generated by the solar plant. These on-site solar power plants are set up on rooftops, as carports, on grounds and on superstructures, integrating them with the client´s existing grid.

What is the status of rooftop solar installations in India?
Out of 100 GW of solar power target the government has set, about 40 GW of target was set for rooftop solar. Obviously it is a big target, and unless everybody adopts technology and the government plays a very facilitating role, even half of that does not seem like happening. Today, installations are between 200-300 MW of capacity in rooftop. If we plan for the next five years properly, between 5000-10000 MW of rooftop power installation can be achieved.

If the government assumes the role of a facilitator in the next two years as you had suggested, is there a possibility of achieving higher level of installations in the next 5 years?
If we take both utility and rooftop solar into account, the utility segment has evoked a lot of interest in the market. The government has to keep on facilitating people, particularly on land, transmission and bankability issues etc. They should be sorted out in a timely manner. It should not happen like it did in case of coal linkages and related projects. On the other hand, rooftop sector is a more consumer driven sector. The government should ensure that they do not come in between. The government should not make either of them go around places for getting approvals, if that is the case, then the sector will not take off.

Are there any challenges that have to be ironed out for improving growth of the industry - governmental or otherwise?
The government should ensure that the whole process is smooth. Today the policies and procedures are in support of rooftop and other solar projects. But going forward, the distribution companies, transmission companies and all of them will come into picture. We have to ensure that those people will not create any problem. But when it comes to real implementation, T&D companies are creating some problems. The government should ensure that such problems do not arise and basically provide open access to grid.

What are the advantages of rooftop solar installations when compared to field installations and other renewable energy sources?
In the solar space we have rooftop and field segments. Land is an issue in case of land mounted, but in case of rooftop, it is already available, it is a waste or unused area. In case of field mounted, you have to acquire land - which may or may not be a waste land. There is no waste land available in the country given the population is huge. The second point is about transmission. For a large land-mounted solar field you have to create a large transmission network to evacuate the power to the consumption centre. In case of rooftop, you are sitting on the consumption centre. Both generation and consumption are taking place at the same time.

Third, there are no transmission losses in rooftop solar. In case of long distance transmission, there are significant energy losses in transit. That is fully avoided in rooftop as the transmission process is bare minimum - that is zero losses. You are producing and consuming at the same spot.

Fourthly, customers get the direct benefit of the same as they do not have to bear installation costs, but pay as they consume. When the electricity board buys power from field installations, they are subjected to aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses, which could go up to 30-40 per cent. Even if the price of the power the board buys is at Rs 5.20 or Rs 5.30 per unit, by the time of delivery to consumer it goes up to Rs 8, considering the transit losses.

In case of solar power also, distributed model is better. Field installation of solar panels still faces all the problems of conventional process like transmission costs and losses, making it much more complex, actually. With rooftop solar, you can be totally independent of the grid, besides there are no distribution and transmission issues, no AT&C losses and it can be operated in hilly and remote areas. Simply put, it can do to a power supply (household/consumer) what a mobile phone can do to a telephone network.

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