Breaking Barriers to becoming a Solar City

Gurugram has all that it takes to become a “solar rooftop” city – loads of sun, a conducive policy environment, large buildings, and above all, a progressive mindset. Installations across the city have in fact risen sharply in the last two years among schools, colleges, RWAs, hospitals, corporate and commercial buildings, industry and individual homes. The installed solar rooftop capacity in the city has crossed the 25 MW mark (8 MW is grid-connected while rest is off-grid) but the real potential is well over 200 MW.

The call for solar is loud and clear. Cities urgently need to opt for a greener, cleaner energy to control pollution levels. It can decrease significantly – if not eliminate – the reliance on expensive and highly polluting DG sets. It also partly saturates the rising electricity demand and the need for associated transmission infrastructure. Solar cost is low and falling (Rs 5-6 per unit); grid power (Rs 7-8 per unit) and DG power costs (Rs 14-22 per unit) are high and rising. The return on investment for solar is in 3-4 years; after that consumers can enjoy free electricity for the next 20 years, till the solar panels last. In fact, by putting their excess solar energy in to the grid through net metering one can actually earn an income too.

But for cities to up the ante on solar adoption, it is imperative to popularise solar as a commodity at the household level. For this, substantial work needs to be done to demystify solar, improve basic understanding of solar and update people on government solar related policies.  People seem to be carrying myths, misinformation and pre-conceived notions about solar.  It is considered as a hard-to-understand fast-changing technology. The upfront cost seems daunting and the financing options appear limited. Besides, installation of and maintaining solar panels seems cumbersome. There is even resistance to use rooftops for solar as it may look ugly. Then, it’s a competitive market with too many vendors with little differentiation. Consumers often get perplexed comparing quotes from various vendors selling multiple qualities of products. Benchmark pricing and empanelment of vendors on government sites gives some indication, but is not enough.  

What will really help is clear and simple guidelines from a credible source on the complete process of going solar – from inspection of roofs for assessing the solar need to structuring and financing options to commissioning and O&M including when and how to apply for subsidy. Besides, success stories highlighting cost savings as well as installation and running experience need to be showcased in workshops and solar melas so that potential users gain confidence to take the plunge. Nothing can be more assuring than listening to real experiences. Citizen visits to National Institute of Solar Energy on the Gurugram-Faridabad road to get acquainted with solar technology can be organised. Besides, Gurugram is headquarters to various solar companies that should provide courses on “solar basics” in schools, colleges and RWAs, as part of their corporate social responsibility.  

By demystifying solar, it could be promoted and popularised as a commodity or product rather than a project. This will remove the acquisition barriers to a large extent. (These days solar solution for homes is sold in a box with in-built subsidy and clearances. Such products are generating a lot of interest among residential consumers).

The installation process, too, should be simplified with single window clearances and seamless coordination among all involved agencies such as HAREDA (for subsidy) and DHBVN (for net metering). Since “net metering” is what adds the real attractiveness, availability of net meters, their speedy installation, and their integration with billing systems need to be resolved at the earliest. In fact, DHBVN should play a more proactive role in facilitating solar growth, much beyond simply providing the “net metering” functionality. As for HAREDA, it needs to have more capacity in creating awareness, coordinating and monitoring.  

If all government buildings run on solar, it has a huge demonstration effect on citizens. Besides, RWAs can be encouraged to light up atleast all their common areas such as parking, parks etc by solar. Policies need to be more directed; on one hand mandatory provisions need to be implemented and monitored well, while on the other new ways of incentivising solar installers need to be put in place.  HUDA should have more regulatory oversight to ensure that all new buildings as per the mandate install solar. Innovative policies such as rent-a-roof policy or those that support community solar projects need to be put in place.

Most developed countries such as Australia and Germany started their solar programme by targeting households and have a huge solar share under the rooftop segment. India, on the other hand, like China has bulk of solar under utility solar. Gurugram will become a solar city in the true sense when homes and residential communities make the solar switch. 

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