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Can we board the solar bus on time?

With the exception of few issues, the Goa Solar Power Policy 2017 is largely beneficial for the state. It needs to be vigorously implemented or else we miss this bus like we missed the IT bus, says Sanjiv Nadkarni*

Goa is known for high rate of literacy and superior life style. Goan families use more gadgets and appliances compared to families in most other states. Flip side of this is that Goa’s per capita consumption of power is one of the highest in the country. While national average is about 1100 plus units, Goa’s per capita consumption is 2200 units and is steadily growing. Most of this power is generated from fossil fuels and therefore a Goan family has dubious distinction of being one of the highest contributors to the overall pollution.

Bigger picture is that India is the world’s third largest producer and third largest consumer of electricity. About 65 per cent of the electricity consumed in India is generated by thermal power plants, 22 per cent by hydroelectric power plants, three per cent by nuclear power plants and rest 10 per cent from other alternate sources like solar, wind, biomass etc. However the government is pushing for increased investment in renewable energy with favourable policies at state levels. This has yielded results and now renewable energy contributes nearly 33 per cent of the total installed capacity of 344 GW in the national grid, with solar power turning out to be a key contributor.

Sun’s rays, the basic input for such plants are abundantly available to us being a tropical country. It is free as there are no procurement or transportation costs. Its availability is predictable and power so generated is free of pollution. Every state has obligation to produce certain amount of Renewable Power to reduce carbon foot print. Goa’s annual power requirement is about 550 MW and it has Renewable Power Obligation (RPO) of about 50 MW. Currently Goa meets this requirement by buying renewable power from other states.

The state government has decided to focus on solar power and a state policy has already been notified that offers financial and other help. Easy availability of raw material, ready local market supported by government scheme, increased awareness regarding pollution issues offer local entrepreneurs a sunrise opportunity to get into solar power business.

There is an impression that solar power generation needs large tracks of land. This is true in case one wants to set up solar farms that generate bulk power in Giga Watts. What is doable in Goa is to have distributed smaller plants on roof tops and on small tracks of land.

Goa can emulate example of Diu. It has area of only 42 square kilometers. Its peak time power requirement is 7.50 MW and its daily solar power generation is 13 MW making it the first Union Territory to be energy surplus. Earlier it was dependant on power from Gujarat and had significant line losses. Diu tackled it by generating power locally and in fact reduced the tariff by 12 per cent. Great example set by a tiny territory for the rest of the country.

Goa State Solar Power Policy 2017 has effectively addressed the aspect of distributed power generation. The policy allows grid connectivity which was not possible in Goa until now. A   household can generate solar power on its roof. This power is connected to Goa Electricity Department’s (GED’s) transformer. Solar and grid power flow together in the consumer’s house. From total units consumed in a month, solar units are first subtracted and GED will bill the household only for remaining ones thus bringing down the power bills. In case power generated is more than that is consumed, the surplus power will go in the grid (supplied to govt) and the household will get credit for this surplus in subsequent bills. This opens up possibility of setting solar power plants on roofs of bunglows, colleges etc. When college has long vacation, excess power will actually earn it money as consumption during Diwali or Christmas vacation will be fraction of what is generated. This concept is called net metering wherein net difference between generation and consumption is given back to a consumer as credit.

GED’s plan is to take reading of net meter in September and March and surplus recorded in six months will be paid to the generator at a rate stipulated by JERC (Joint Electricity Regulatory Commission). Large housing societies that need power for lifts, water pumps, open spaces and who use DG sets when main power fails can take advantage of net metering and reduce their monthly expenses.

There is another interesting provision in the state policy. It allows a household to generate power and exclusively supply it to GED without using any of it for the household’s own consumption. This is called as Gross Metering. In this case, GED is required to pay the household JERC stipulated rate. Current rate fixed by JERC is Rs 8 per unit. This opens immense possibility of running solar power generation as a profitable business. The highest rate a household pays today is Rs 4 per unit + FPCCA of Rs 0.48 and ED of Rs 0.20 which make cost per unit of power consumed at home as Rs 4.68 where as you get Rs 8 per unit supplied to GED. Since this does not make economic sense to GED, I expect the purchase rate is likely to be reduced. Gross metering option is available only to smaller consumers of GED whose connected load is not more than 100 KW.

There is a belief that solar power can be used only for smaller loads like lighting. This is so because initial application of this power was for street or garden lights wherein power was generated during day time, stored in car batteries and used at night. One can store small amount of power in batteries. Grid connectivity opens possibility of bigger consumers like hospitals, hotels, theatres, malls to generate solar power on relatively larger scale than households. These entities need to use lifts and ACs continuously, leading to increase in their power consumption. In case of main power shutdown they have to start DG sets.

A unit of power from diesel costs Rs 22/- and it is only likely that diesel rates will go upwards in times ahead. Such consumers can also avail of Income tax benefits by way of accelerated depreciation on investment in solar power plant which currently is 40 per cent, 40 per cent and 20 per cent.  Without factoring diesel costs, investment in solar plant can be recovered in 7 to 8 years and those who face repeated shutdowns and use DG sets can recover much earlier. Life of solar plant is 25 years and one can get free power for 17 years. This is a huge opportunity in reducing operating expenses of not only hospitals and hotels but even larger industrial units irrespective of what their load is.

A variation of this case is that an entrepreneur can set up solar power plant on a hotel roof at his own cost and supply it to hotel on monthly bill payable basis at a rate slightly less than what the hotel pays to GED. Thus hotel can improve its bottom line without investing a rupee. If this concept catches on, Goa can see successful entrepreneurial ecosystem in green power.

It must have been clear by now that any amount of load can be taken care by solar power. Limitation is space available to generate this power. Typically a 500 KW plant needs 5,000 sq. mtr. of space on roof or on ground which must be free from shadows. A 500 KW plant generates about 6.50 lakh units of power per annum. This will help bigger consumers to understand how much power they can generate and what kind of benefits they will get,

To help distributed power generation, smaller producers (connected load up to 100 KW) will get 50 per cent of the cost of the plant as interest free loan from the state government. Every surplus unit fed into the grid will be taken at Rs four per unit or at JERC tariff whichever is less towards recovery of loan.

The state has obligation to generate or purchase about 50 MW of green power annually. This is roughly 6.50 crore units. The government can encourage local entrepreneurs by offering them a reasonable rate. Conversion of land is not needed to generate solar power and neither is permission required from panchayats, municipalities or the TCP

As per the WHO, roughly four lakh people in India die of carbon monoxide poisoning every year because of biomass burning. Burning of biomass and firewood will not stop unless electricity or clean burning fuel get widely adopted in rural and urban India. The growth of electricity sector in India may help find a sustainable alternative to traditional fuel burning. Even today children study in the light of kerosene lamps in villages. In large rural population of our country where conventional electricity is yet to reach, solar power is the solution as it can be produced anywhere.

It is said Goa missed the IT bus. Implementation issues of the state Solar Policy must be resolved quickly so that the policy provisions do not just remain on paper. We should see that we do not miss this bus but become an example to the rest of the country in clean, distributed power generation. Of course we do have a choice to do nothing and be nothing. Luckily power and renewable energy portfolios are handled in Goa by the same minister and one can hope issues to be set to rest early for vigorous implementation of State Solar Policy

*The writer works in areas of IT and renewable energy. He can be reached at sanjivnadkarni@hotmail.com

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