Sunny side up!

Anert plans to organise more awareness drives to boost the ambitious Solar City project
Solar panels installed at Anert head office in Thiruvananthapuram
Solar panels installed at Anert head office in Thiruvananthapuram

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM : From the country’s first solar park at Perla in Kasaragod to the world’s first solar-powered airport in Kochi and the floating power plants in Wayanad, Vembanad, and Idukki, Kerala’s embrace of the Sun has been noteworthy.

Taking the quest forward, last year it was announced that Thiruvananthapuram would be made a solar city. Now, a year after launching the ambitious Solar City project as part of the Smart City mission, the capital city appears to be progressing well on the solar path.

Since the project commenced, Anert, the nodal coordinating agency, has completed 148 projects with a capacity of 750KW, following up the registrations on its e-marketing portal, During Anert’s latest spot registration drive from January 3 to 10, an additional 300 city residents came forward to install solar power generation units on their rooftops.

They will join over 8,000 houses in Thiruvananthapuram sporting photovoltaic cell panels since the launch of the Soura scheme two years ago. Utilising substantial subsidies from the Central ministry of new and renewable energy, this scheme allocated 200MW to the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) and 25MW to Anert.

Statewide, around 40,000 houses have installed solar panels with a capacity of 140MW in two years, with authorities claiming it as a success story, asserting that consumers save a considerable amount of power contributed to the KSEB grid.

In 2023, residential solar installations in the city have credited around 2,000 units daily to the KSEB grid. Consumers are reimbursed annually for this grant, roughly working up to Rs5,000 per day in total.
Over the past year, 570 government buildings in Thiruvananthapuram, including anganwadis in remote areas, transitioned to solar energy. Anert officials say the agency plans to include 200 LIFE Mission projects in the city in its solar plans as well.

The constructions made as part of the mission will have provisions for solar power, and panel and link installation will be free. For other applicants, the 2KW units come at a cost of about `1 lakh per set, after subsidy of Rs29,000.

“In addition to this, we will also give the LIFE Mission beneficiaries an induction cooker. This will help them reduce dependence on LPG, and annually save up to Rs10,000,” says Aneesh Prasad, chief technical manager of Anert.

With steps being taken to ensure that new buildings mandatorily have room for solar installations, the project, with a larger 2030 mandate, seems to be progressing well, notes Visakh M S, the project’s district engineer.

However, there are some hiccups. For one, there are multiple windows for consumers to register for solar panel installations. Besides a parallel Central agency, private players are also in the fray. Officials rue that many people approach them for setting up solar units, despite the higher price without subsidies.

Hence, the actual number of residents in the city who have adopted solar energy cannot be ascertained, says Aneesh. “There is also a concern about quality. Our empanelled facilitators are well within our jurisdiction, and we quality-check the products as well as the method of implementation. But the same cannot be said in other cases,” he adds.

Awareness is a significant roadblock, according to the Federation of Residents’ Associations, Thiruvananthapuram. Its representatives say the Anert project would have taken off faster had there been better effort to familiarise the people about the need for eco-friendly energy and its long-term cost-effectiveness.

City resident Rojy Robert is one such individual who may not have known much about the government incentives. Hence, he approached a private player in Sreekaryam. Rojy, who runs a hostel at Nalanchira, says his property has gone fully solar, helping him save at least Rs8,000 every month on power bills, and fetching him `Rs15,000 annually.

“I paid Rs3.5 lakh to set up the 5KW facility. I approached a private firm, as I did not have a clear idea about the government subsidy plan,” he says. Taking note of the lack of awareness, Anert officials say they are planning to team up with apartments’ and residents’ associations and organise sessions to discuss better implementation, grievance redressal, etc.

Also in the offing are plans to restructure the regulatory mechanism to allow virtual metering to help the supply of solar power to even those rooftops that are tiled or slanting. “We are planning to generate solar power in bulk at a specified locality that could be far from the residents. The provision can be made if required regulatory changes are made to include virtual metering,” says Visakh.

Another impediment is that the regular transformers can take only up to 80 percent solar power. “They say the system would break down if this cap is breached. This means it is time for updating,” says an Anert official.

Manoj M, a senior government official, says such niggles have to be ironed out if the state seeks to pace ahead on the solar path. “I set up a 4KW facility at my home via KSEB. After subsidy, I paid about Rs2 lakh to set the panels up. They work well, slashing my power bill from Rs500 to Rs130 per month,” he smiles.

“Annually, I get over Rs20,000 for the surplus power transferred to the KSEB grid. Besides the immediate incentive, I always calculate the long-term benefits. E-vehicles will be the norm tomorrow. And to charge them, I will need three times the power I now use. With power bills skyrocketing, going solar will be the smart way towards a healthier bank balance, cleaner planet.”

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