People now view the technology, price tags with suspicion

The prospect of the State harvesting rooftop solar energy in plenty to tide over its energy crisis seems to have been marred by the raging solar scam. Moves to tap solar energy, an answer to Kerala’s precarious energy position, have brought sunshine to the State’s power front of late. But the way seems to have been lost in the labyrinth of the scam. People now seem to fear whether they would get their fingers burnt by the solar panels.

Energy expert and former Member (Generation) of the Kerala State Electricity Board K. Radhakrishnan says that for no fault of the technology, the scam has dampened the interest of the public in rooftop solar panels — at a time when it is most needed.

He wants the engineering community in the power sector and government agencies to initiate a damage-control process to restore public confidence in this abundant and clean energy source. “Though the good rain has temporarily saved us from power crisis, the power position will not be comfortable if we fail to add more generation capacity this year itself,” he says.

Price front

Mr. Radhakrishnan is of the view that the present prices quoted by companies empanelled by the Agency for Non-conventional Energy and Rural Technology (ANERT) for the solar system have to be verified and justified, and the details made public. The split-up of the cost, price of the components, and make of the components used should be made available to the public for comparison. The criteria for selection and details of each company should also be made public.

The annual energy demand of the State is 17,000 million units, with an annual increase of around 6,000 million units. With no capacity addition on the anvil, installation of more rooftop panels, besides other measures, has to be carried forward with vigour, he says.

“Though the cheating has nothing to do with the credibility of solar panels, people at large have started to view the technology with suspicion,” says Mr. Radhakrishnan, who was in the forefront, along with the KSEB Engineers Association, in the campaign for the promotion of solar energy.

Variation in prices

ANERT manages the process of installation of solar panels in the State now. It has approved a set of companies and the public can purchase the system from them in order to get government subsidy. Many think that the prices quoted by the approved companies have an element of cheating, as there is very wide variation in prices across the market.

He points out that while most of the companies quote nearly Rs.2 lakh for a 1-kW system, many non-empanelled companies approach people quoting around half the price. At the same time, the prices are fast coming down because of massive production, high competition, and adoption of novel technologies. This triggers a complaint that the public is prevented from getting the benefit because of the empanelling process.

Research scholar and energy management expert S. Ratnakumar says that the scam has created a reluctance among the people to solar energy because of the confusion as to who is reliable. To overcome this, technical information has to be made available. He suggests creation of a government-level cell for the purpose. Solar panel costs are fast coming down and the State should exploit the boom, he adds.

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