Why Are India’s Rooftops Still Untapped?

Say ‘solar’ in a developed nation, and the image that comes to mind, and in magazines too, mind you, is that of thousands of individual houses’ solar rooftop systems. Sadly, in India, an individual house with a solar rooftop system (or SRT, as they are popularly called) is still a rarity. Only 20% of the total installed capacity of solar power in India is shared by residential rooftops. Ever wonder why, on the one hand, industrial, commercial, institutional and public sector undertakings seem to embrace solar power wholeheartedly, while Indian households shrink back from the same? Let us explore.

Solar Rooftop

In India, we have, at least till present, deliberately focused more on large-scale solar installation. Well, large-scale solar installation helps us achieve scale quickly and greatly reduce costs. After all, we have a target of 40 GW capacity by 2022 to reach. But our current dismal performance at 2,158 MW by December 2018 makes us re-think our whole approach to transitioning to a solar future. Maybe here, as more often in life, many a mickle makes a muckle. Maybe by not encouraging the advent of residential solar rooftop systems, we are under-utilizing what could prove to be our greatest resources in this solar revolution.

Why should public policy need to favour residential rooftops more?

Let us list a few ways individual household producing and consuming their own electricity via solar rooftop systems ought to be promoted.

1.    Since the power generated is consumed locally, there are minimal losses involved in transmission and distribution, ruling out a major cause of concern in most power distribution mechanisms.

2.    They can act as a better alternative to diesel generating sets as back-ups, cutting down pollution levels, in cities.

3.    The tariffs of conventional electricity seem to know only one direction to go – up. Contrast this with falling solar energy prices, and we realize switching to solar power is simply an economically wiser decision to make in an energy-deficient world.

How can we ‘solarise’ residential rooftops?

Making India’s residential rooftops solar would require not just programmes and incentives in this regard, but consistent, concerted efforts also. Take for example the Solar City Programme initiated in 2008, which did not bear much fruit owing to lack of concrete steps, or the Environment Impact Assessment Notification of 2006, which requires buildings whose area exceeds 5000 square meter to have, at the minimum, 1 per cent of their connected load via solar rooftop system, that goes largely unenforced and unmonitored. So, how can we learn from our past mistakes and encourage more of residential rooftops to go solar? Here are a few suggestions.

1.    Significant efforts should be made to increase awareness among the common people about solar rooftop systems and their benefits.

2.    The processes of approving net metering and distributing subsidies need to become a lot more consumer-friendly– fear of getting caught in bureaucratic hassles is discouraging enough for many to not even try.

3.    The government has largely relied on providing subsidies to solar consumers (30% subsidy for the whole of India, while 70% for the three hilly states) to drive installation of solar power systems. Equally required is the need to make loans available. In spite of a 30 per cent capital subsidy, investing in solar power is well beyond most people’s financial wherewithal. It is encouraging to note that Reserve Bank of India has listed solar rooftop as a priority sector for lending loans, and eight public sector banks have already opened their doors to potential solar clientele by making loans available under housing or housing improvement.

Sustained efforts at implementing existent plans, increased transparency and ease in the procedures involved in procuring government sanctions and approvals for subsidy and net-metering, raising awareness among common people along with making loans readily available will go a long way in harvesting the sunny potential of our rooftops.