Even adverse situations create conditions for new opportunities. This appears to hold good for solar power in Tamil Nadu.

With most parts of the State experiencing long hours of load-shedding, public attention has turned to obtaining some remedy or relief. Inverters, many a time and in many places, are no good, as their batteries require assured supply for some hours to get recharged.

“Of late, there is greater demand for solar LED lights and fans, both ceiling and table-top,” says P. Mohan, a Chennai-based manufacturer, who has a unit at Ambattur. He has started receiving orders for solar refrigerators. He reckons that it is a matter of time before people turn to solar air-conditioners too.

This only illustrates the potential that solar power holds, particularly for homes. As a user of a solar water heater for the past 15 years, G.K. Ramani, a resident of Indira Nagar, is convinced about it. “Even on days when there is sunlight just for one hour, I get 300 litres of hot water, thanks to the solar heater. On an average, there are only a few such days in a year.”

Even otherwise, a decentralised solar system should make economic sense, at least for those who consume more than 500 units in two months.

Before elaborating on this point, a quick look at certain bare facts. After the 2012 power tariff revision, a domestic consumer has to shell out Rs. 5.75 for every unit consumed beyond 500 units. A one-kilowatt peak (KWp) solar photovoltaic plant without battery costs Rs. 1 lakh, points out a specialist, speaking on the condition of anonymity. With the capital subsidy of 30 per cent from the Centre and Rs. 20,000 from the State government (the scheme of which was announced last week), the initial investment one has to make will be Rs. 50,000.

Assuming that the plant generates 135 units a month, the consumer can save energy to that extent and reduce his power bill annually by Rs. 9,315. For argument’s sake, if the consumer places a fixed deposit of Rs. 50,000 with a financial institution that offers a 10 per cent interest, he will get a return of Rs. 5,000 annually.

With the State government’s schemes, such PV units have become attractive, points out Vineeth Vijayaraghavan, who runs non-profit initiative Solarillion, and is an advocate of renewable energy.

The panel of one such unit will require only 120 square feet, an area that can be easily accommodated on the rooftop of any apartment, says Mr. Vijayaraghavan, adding that one can break even in seven to eight years. Mr. Mohan says it is preferable to go in for a system with battery, which will cost Rs. 50,000 more.

Despite several positive features, there are areas of concern too. The overall cost is still considered high. Mr. Ramani, despite being a recipient of the benefits of a solar-powered gadget for 15 years, has not gone in for a full-fledged solar power system at his home. “The authorities and manufacturers must do something to reduce the cost, particularly that of battery,” he says. The manufacturer Mohan has a suggestion to make: reduce value added tax on solar-powered gadgets. With a mission-mode campaign under way for solar energy and the presence of a good number of manufacturers, the sector is bound to generate further excitement among the public. It is up to the authorities to ensure that the public interest translates into action.

(ramakrishnan.t@thehindu.co.in)

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