From an energy-starved State to a power-surplus one, Karnataka has seen a 360 degree turn in fortunes, and the State has advertised its success story with much focus on its renewable energy sector — mostly solar. However, where the progress has been slow is in getting individuals and organisations to embrace this strategy, and contribute to the State’s share in solar power generation.
Over eight years, from its implementation in 2014 to up until now, the Solar Rooftop Photovoltaic Plants in the jurisdiction of Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (Bescom) has seen some growth, touching 61.74 megawatts (MW) this year (until November). In 2014, the year had ended with a cumulative capacity of 0.11 MW, which means that in eight years, the cumulative capacity has increased by 61.63 MW.
However, Bescom officials admitted that the total solar power generation capacity in Bescom jurisdiction is 210 MW.
5,000 consumers now use solar panels
While more than 5,000 consumers now use solar power panels, over 3,000 of them are residential buildings, and the rest are industries and poultry farms in Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) limits. Earlier this month, Bescom also started implementing the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) sponsored Grid Connected Rooftop Solar Scheme (Phase II), which was long awaited.
Under the scheme, Bescom said it would pay the subsidy amount (40% subsidy for first 3 kW and 20% subsidy for beyond 3kW and upto 10kW) to vendors who install the solar panels. Bescom received 1,500 applications for the scheme.
“By January 2023, we will complete the 10 MW allocation under the scheme. Solar power wise, we are doing very well in the country as we are in the third position after Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh when generation is concerned,” said a senior official of the Demand Side Management (DSM) Department of Bescom.
In 2018, a helicopter which was equipped with a technology called Light Detection and Ranging flew across the city, mapping the potential to generate rooftop solar power. The project was an agreement between Bescom, Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP) and Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Ltd (KREDL). The tool, which went live in 2020, helped customers to determine the solar power generation capacity of their rooftops on the Bescom website.
According to senior Bescom officials, the data from the project was not of much help to them as the mapping did not match the exact coordinates of the city. However, the tool has been helpful for the consumers who can match their coordinates to the map and check the capacity.
CSTEP, which had developed the tool, reported that till date, 32,000 used cases from residential sector were recorded. “However, we cannot tell how much of it resulted in implementation. Our tool showed that in the city of Bengaluru, in over 1,000 square kilometres, there are roughly four lakh rooftops with a cumulative capacity of 2.8 GW,” said Saptak Ghosh, Senior Expert, Renewable Energy at CSTEP.
He added that to update the imagery, there is a lack of funding. “In an urban sprawl like Bengaluru, the scape changes rapidly with new constructions. The imagery was collected in 2018, and it needs to be updated sooner rather than later. Unless a government department or good Samaritans fund it, the tool has the possibility of becoming redundant”, he said.
Looking ahead – challenges and plans
According to consumers, the biggest challenge while installing rooftop solar panels is the red tape as well as corruption amongst vendors. “My neighbours and I have been planning to get these panels for years now. However, when we directly approach Bescom, we do not get clearance and when we approach vendors, they demand bribe in thousands”, said Krishna Murthy, a resident of Rajarajeshwarinagar.
Bescom officials said to avoid such complications, consumers must access the company’s solar rooftop portal and select one of the empanelled vendors for their installation. “The minimum area required for installation is 10 by 10 and according to their sanctioned loads, anybody can get their installations done now, along with subsidy with the help of our portal”, said an official of DSM, Bescom.
The official also added that several advancements have also been brought in, including hybrid inverters and technological improvements, to increase panel efficiency and reduce plant cost. “From the current cost of ₹80,000 - ₹1,00,000 per kW, it will come down to ₹50,000 per kW”, they said.
Bescom is also taking several steps to create more awareness about solar panel installation. “We have been making use of our social media pages as well as our website to spread awareness. We have also been promoting the schemes during our vidyuth adalats” said Mahantesh Bilagi, Managing Director, Bescom.
According to experts, while India’s cumulative rooftop solar capacity is about 8.3 gigawatts, by the end of September 2022, Karnataka’s share in it was only about 5%. “According to the installers we spoke to, in Karnataka, due to lengthy government procedures and the time taken by the residents, installers face delays with apartment complexes or community housing projects. Project planning and feasibility check also take a lot of time. The net metering cap for apartment buildings is a significant hurdle for going solar. If the government makes it compulsory for new apartments and housing complexes in urban areas to install rooftop solar or solar carports, it could encourage growth in the sector,” said Priya Sanjay, Managing Director of Mercom India, a research and consultation firm which works in clean energy sector.