CHENNAI: After a period of six years, the Tamil Nadu government has come up with its second solar policy for 2018. The initial framework of the draft sports a consumer-friendly approach to solar energy and has more benefits for the common man who invests in solar energy.
In the draft policy, the government has set a target that is four times higher than its existing installed capacity of 2365MW. Unlike the previous policy rolled out in 2012, the current one focuses more on producing solar energy on a non-commercial basis, that is, through rooftop installations in residential buildings. One of the government’s main goals is to achieve 40 per cent of its total target of 8,884 MW solely through solar rooftops on homes. The draft policy talks about making solar energy a mainstream energy source in Tamil Nadu by 2022.
Once the policy is finalised by the government, it will be in place for the next five years. The backlog from the previous policy also will be achieved along with new targets, said officials from state agencies.
Experts opine that, as the state is blessed with ample amounts of sunshine, with close to 300 sunny days a year, the current targets though ambitious can be achieved. But sufficient infrastructure to support the generation of solar energy should be made available first.
The two major government schemes put forth in 2012 — installation of solar rooftops in three lakh houses and energizing one lakh streetlights through solar power — is incomplete. The projects together needed an investment of approximately Rs 2500 crore, but only 40 per cent progress has been made. “There is no point in setting targets if an implementation is not monitored by the government. A state which provides electricity at 30-40 per cent subsidy has not been able to set up solar rooftops at even 3,000 houses in six years,” said Raghunathan KE, founder of Solkar Solar Industry Ltd and president of All India Manufacturers organisation.
The main focus of the 2012 policy was to generate 3,000 MW of solar energy by 2015. But multiple factors, like high market price of solar power, inadequate technological support and shift in the method of bidding for solar energy, acted as deterrents.
Another major drawback of the policy was the structuring of net credit, a system where the current bill is reduced proportionally to the export of solar power without taking into consideration the cost of power at peak hours. This resulted in heavy losses to the discom (Tangedco). “During peak hours, a unit of power might cost Rs 16, but solar power was still pegged at Rs 3.
When a consumer-generated solar power, they did not have to pay the difference between this and their current bill,” said Vishnu K, member of the Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG). Also in 2012, Tangedco and the Tamil Nadu Energy Development Agency (TEDA) had many issues in terms of clarity over this system, which acted as a constraint in installing net meters, said Vikram Kapur, Chairman of Tangedco. “Now, we have proposed an alternative formulation to shift from ‘net-on-unit’ to ‘net-on-value’, so that differences in energy imported and exported will be paid to the consumer,” he said.
On the other hand, officials point out that due to technological advancements, future targets for solar rooftop installations, coupled with pending targets from the previous policy, can be comfortably achieved in the next four years. “In the present scenario, in terms of policy-making and implementation, we have more support from the central government,” said an official from TEDA. Also, the current policy lays extra emphasis on solar rooftops to be set up in residential buildings and common places like schools, colleges, and government buildings, unlike the 2012 policy.
According to data accessed by Express, 90 per cent of solar power generated in the state till date has been through large solar parks and commercial scale generators. While the state has 193 large-scale solar generators which produce 2,221 MW, only 8,000 rooftops have been installed, generating 144MW.
While the costs of solar panels or modules have reduced drastically, the overall atmosphere is more conducive for the common man to invest in solar energy. Experts said as the demand has come down, the market price also has fallen by three folds since 2012. “Previously, people had to shell out Rs 4 lakh to install a 1 KW (Kilowatt) rooftop panel. Now, it costs just Rs 1 lakh. In 2012, one watt of the panel cost Rs 250, but now it’s Rs 30. But prices are bound to go up again due to the scarcity of materials as more people are opting for solar energy now,” said Raghunathan.
Also, the cost of solar power has come down drastically in the last five years and it is now cheaper than thermal power. In 2012, one unit of solar power cost Rs 12, whereas one unit of thermal power cost Rs 7. But six years down the line, a unit of solar power costs between Rs 3 and Rs 5, while thermal power costs almost Rs 10.
The new policy also gives different options for the way in which solar power can be fed back into the grid, which differs for consumers and private developers. The method of virtual net feed-in is unique to this policy and has received praise. “In this method, people who don’t have terrace space to put up panels can avail solar benefits by sharing the power generated by a common panel,” said Dinesh.
The policy also has other beneficial features, like indicators in transformers to monitor the capacity of solar power that it can withstand. Percentage of power that can be set to the transformer has been increased from 30 to 120, and an online database for storing information about distribution licenses has been proposed. Additionally, charges that were levied in the previous policy for banking and wheeling of solar power, that is transporting generated power to the desired destination from solar plants, have been erased.
Meanwhile, officials say the technicality behind finding a balance between thermal and solar power is very crucial. “Maximum load is required only after 6 pm. In this case, we have to use solar energy in the morning and thermal at night. But thermal plants are 40 years old and constant ramping up and bringing down of a load will reduce the life of such plants. Generating a specified quantum of solar power is possible, but finding a way such that it doesn’t destabilize the grid is crucial,” said Kapur.
What experts want
The policy also states that by April 2019, instruments known as bi-directional meters, which measure solar power generated and electricity consumed at the same time, will replace ordinary meters that calculate only units of power consumed. These meters will be fitted on buildings that have rooftop panels. But experts suggest that such meters must be made freely available in the market without
“Once net meters are tested and certified, they must be freely available. Now Tangedco is the sole authority that sells it. They should allow private companies to produce and sell them,” said Dinesh NS, chairman of Soot Less Energy, a solar power energy installer. Solar developers and experts said that more emphasis must be given to institutions like hospitals, prisons, panchayats, industrial areas and primary health care centres which work around the year. “Educational institutions only work for 220 days a year. and solar parks have problems like procurement of land and high power loss. All this can be avoided by going the decentralised way,” added Raghunathan.