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Is rooftop the new age solar

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Challenges for the solar energy sector

There are several barriers that the solar energy sector is facing ranging from lack of awareness, high initial cost to technical and policy issues.

One of the biggest challenges that the sector faces is that most builders are unaware of the advantages of rooftop solar. There is a knowledge gap that needs to be filled when it comes to installation of the rooftop systems. There is not just need for investment in training technicians that install, operate and maintain these systems, but also installers – architects, consultants, builders etc. Already there is limited uptake of rooftop solar system in the residential sector thinking that it would be difficult to address the maintenance part of the plant.

Moreover, rooftop solar policies are very new in India. It is still an expensive option for the ordinary urban household to install it on individual rooftops. Although, home owners and group housing as well as commercial companies can lease out house roofs and install the same, it is being practiced only in Gandhinagar, Gujarat as of now. So, the aim of installing 40,000 MW of rooftop solar seems a distant dream to begin with.

The problem with solar energy deployment has been that it has been conceived to be expensive even though the prices of solar panels have been falling tremendously since the inception of JNNSM in 2010. But solar modules/panels only account for 50 per cent of the total costs of a rooftop system. The cost of rooftop system is still higher because of the battery costs which have remained stable more or less in the recent past. An estimate reveals that 1 kilo-watt rooftop system would cost between `1 – 1.2 lakh which is still a lot of investment upfront for any investor.

The problem also arises that the return on investment is only savings in the electricity bills and the payback period might be longer than most residential consumers like. On the other hand, since commercial and institutional set-ups pay higher tariffs for electricity, it would be more lucrative for them. For instance, PEC University of Technology (Formerly Punjab Engineering College) has installed the largest rooftop PV plant in Chandigarh with a total capacity of 1 MW using the rooftop space of 12sqm/kW. The system is currently producing around 700,000 units of power in a year and catering to 50 per cent of the University’s demand.

Technology & Policy Barriers

If every consumer of electricity would become a producer of electricity, there would be some policy challenges to overcome to achieve this. For instance, if a building adds solar panels to its rooftop, the owner might need approval from the municipality since it would add height and weight to the building. As of today, building codes and by-laws are silent on these points. There is a lack of clarity on the process.

Also, there are technical issues regarding distribution network and the distribution company when there is two-way flow of power. It is unknown whether the transformers would be able to manage the bi-directional flow of electricity. There is a question of what happens to the electricity meters that have already been installed – would they go in reverse when the excess power is being exported back to grid?

The Way forward

There is no doubt that solar energy sector needs major intervention at policy level and many clarifications on the implementation side. But this sector is wide open for new models to be tried out both in financing and policy to showcase innovation and originality. According to CSE experts, the future of energy system is decentralised, distributed, smart and renewable. Consumer and producer of energy being the same person interacting with the said power, is an efficient and optimal method. Especially for a country like India, decentralized approach offers solutions that can be adopted even in remote areas without waiting for the grid to arrive and to provide reliable and continuous supply of electricity. In this context, rooftop solar is the way forward for attaining the electrification and clean energy goals of the nation.

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