Country wide solar adoption depends upon growth in awareness and involving the common man. Understanding this, the Government of India has focused on rooftop solar development while taking enormous leaps in utility scale solar installations. It is important to note that India has a rooftop solar energy generation potential of 124 GW (current total energy generation 330 GW). And even if only 1.3% of India’s total households (total 248,408,494) are solarized with rooftop technology, more than 30% of that estimated energy capacity can be harnessed.

And with solar tariffs standing at record low INR 2.44 /Kw (lower than conventional energy tariff), this presents an incredible opportunity for the country to quickly grow their rooftop capacities. Let us list the viability that rooftop solar brings to the table to validate the importance of rapid rooftop solarisation within India.

Feasibility of Rooftop Solar Plants

Although, India’s utility scale solar installations can add humongous amount of solar capacities at one go (e.g- 648 MW capacity plant at Kamuthi, Tamil Nadu), they require huge spread of land, which by the way India doesn’t have, considering the increasing population (1.34 bn in 2017). Additionally, utility solar installations require well developed infrastructure to connect the harvested energy to the grid. On the other hand, when we are talking about rooftop solar installations, the cost of land and required infrastructure seems to be only a fraction of the utility scale solar installations.

In the same breath, we need to point out that long life span of solar modules (27 years avg.) and low maintenance requirement of solar technology actually helps rooftop solar users to get benefits of green energy for decades without burning a hole in their wallets.

It is true that utility based installations are now leading Indian solar sector. But, it is the future of rooftop solar that can offer faster solarisation of a country, while reducing the electricity bills of the consumer (consumers pays less to utility), and allowing them to produce and even sell energy.

With Net-metering schemes (which 36 states and UTs have identified and in different stage of implementation), consumers can sell the excess energy to the grid, becoming energy reliant. And when each household becomes energy reliant, India vision of energy security will definitely get realized.

Understanding the potential, Government of India has mandated solar installations in PSUs/institutions, and new Government building in many states. Brought in new investment opportunities (setting up US$1.5 billion fund for grid connected rooftop installation by SBI, IREDA, PNB and World Bank). Offering 30% capital subsidy to residential and not-for-profit institutional investors. And all this effort has resulted in ~1.7 GW rooftop solar capacity. However, challenges still remain.

The Challenges

India has reached ~1.7 GW rooftop solar capacity within a short time span. However, the proposed target of 40 GW by 2022 is still far away and would require a faster adoption framework.

Although Government is providing subsidies to encourage rooftop solar installations, the financial support is only available after commissioning of the plant. Therefore, it befalls upon the consumer to bear the initial investment. Besides, there are some discrepancies and delays in getting the subsidies after commissioning a plant, which only creates problems for the consumer.

It is a fact that Indian Government is actively focusing on generating fund for rooftop growth. But, to reach more than 95% of the remaining targeted capacity (40 GW) within next 5 years, the fund generation has to be boosted.

Also with states of India coming up with their own rooftop policies (maintaining the central guidelines) it has become challenging to evaluate and compare the state wise rooftop solar growth in India.

Net-metering also doesn’t have required clarity on implementation models. And requirement for multiple permissions, lack of awareness within the utility stuff and the consumers is creating a huge challenge to meet installation targets.

In regards of consumer awareness, India needs to disclose information about cost, benefits, and important information to go solar. Campaigns are being organized by National Solar Energy Federation of India (NSEFI) and MNRE to raise awareness, but more is needed to reach the set target.

Lastly, clarity on policies is needed. It will explain the functionality of the policies and help consumers and developers to go for rooftop installations.

Way Forward

Offering easy financing options, faster delivery of subsidies, setting up a larger fund for rooftop, bringing in a uniform rooftop policy and mandating states to follow for easier evaluation, offering information through television, radio and other media platforms, will help India realize its full rooftop solar potential.

Involving common men in the fold is the fastest way to solarize the country, and rooftop solar brings that opportunity to us. This is the right time to enhance and expand the solar sector, when the demand, innovation, and investment on solar is high. So, India should utilize this opportunity and focus on country wide rooftop solar installations to become the green energy super power it aspires to be.

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Government and private players working in a unison has created a favourable environment for solar in India. The growth has been incredible till date, showing considerable increase in energy generation rate (India is estimated to become energy surplus country at the end of 2017). Solar favouring policies, strategies, and systems in place have done a great job in leading India to become the third largest solar market and 4th largest economy in the world.

And although, major cities of India have received attention in energy improvement (through solar installations), rural areas in India are still under the shroud of darkness. Fact shows that Government of India has taken initiatives like- Power for all, Saubhagya plan, and Deendayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY) to electrify villages. But it is important to note that more than 3000 villages are still un-electrified. Issues concerning reaching the electricity lines to rural areas, and huge distribution losses (~30%) have made it harder to illuminate the rural areas. In such a scenario, it is important to highlight that a 50 kW solar grid with distribution capacity of 5 KM can power ~500 homes, businesses, schools, and couple of telecom towers with ease.

Therefore, it is only logical that the Government should consider using solar powered mini-grids to the needy areas for rapid electrification, awareness, and energy sustainability.

Mini Grids Are Gaining Popularity

Although, the rural electrification process is progressing (13,97,57,084 households electrified), it is to be noted that just having access to electricity doesn’t necessarily offer energy sustainability. Many of the villages that are already registered as ‘electrified’, have only 10% of their public places and households electrified. And in some instances, electrified villages only received electricity for 5-6 hours a day.  Such a scenario calls for a better energy framework utilization (Solar Mini-grid). And solar installations within villages are gaining popularity, as they promise to offer energy sustainability. Government has taken the hint and taking action on establishing solar mini-grid plants.

Mini grid installations in Chhattisgarh by CREDA and in Sunderbans (WB) supervised by WBREDA have already shown the capability to light up the un-electrified villages. Establishing a Mini-grid circle has brought electricity to 130 households in villages like Kasina and Bheldi (in Bihar). And following the footprint, Jharkhand Renewable Energy Development Agency (JREDA) has introduced a project to electrify 320 households across 11 villages with the help of Mini and Micro grids. Government of India also has plans to establish 70 grids in Bihar and UP to offer energy. Supporting the initiative, UP Government is planning to offer 30% subsidy on these installations. Research shows that such developments have led to 16% off-grid development target.

However, as the country focuses on 100% electrification within 2019, more effort on establishing mini-grid is needed to achieve the target.

Challenges

Policy: Material procurement laws, delays in land acquisition, lack of awareness, and the gap between creation and implementation of policies- are slowing down solar Mini-grid’s growth. India desperately needs a regulatory framework to support and aid these processes in the villages. More awareness is needed to help the people in the village understand the cost, the profit and the benefits of choosing SPV mini-grid over diesel power energy solutions. Encouraging private entities to deploy isolated Mini-grids in villages is also needed. Last but not the least, a focus on making subsidy disbursal rules more flexible is needed to encourage private developers.

Economic: Mainstream economy is mainly focused on utility based solar installations. Therefore, lack of financing options have isolated Mini-grid developers and brought the question whether their ventures will turn profit or not. Lack of profitable off-take agreements, and debt financing facilities discourage the developers from venturing into rural solar electrification. Likewise, lack of subsidies on energy storages has made solar growth challenging.

Technological: Delays or lack of net-metering deployment ratio, lack of or no standard responses framework to system abuse, confusions in tariff collection are few of the technological issues that halt Mini-grid progress.

More Focus in Needed for Faster Solarisation

Solar Mini-grids promise to offer energy solutions similar to standard grid based energy, however with solar mini-grid, there will be no electricity outages. Besides, with solar panel cost and tariff declining, it would be a feasible option for people in the villages than shelling out money for diesel or kerosene for energy. Therefore, solar mini-grids are best option to illuminate the rural parts of India, and create awareness within common people to adopt solar.

However, to make mini-grids more effective, some changes need to be made in the existing renewable energy structure. A clear policy development and implementation can certainly help. Nevertheless, the success lies within collaborative work between the Government and private entities.

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Accepting and promoting green energy through solar is amounting to be the one in a million ideas that promise to revolutionize and reform the world in a hurry. And Indian Government is decisively supporting solar, envisioning an energy rich country that fosters socio-economic reform. However, India being home to 17.86% (and growing) of global population, face continued shrinkage of available vacant space for solar panel installation. In such a scenario India has taken the second step towards revolution, incorporating creative engineering choices, harvesting solar energy on top of canals and water bodies.

Is It a Suitable Replacement of Land?

It is more than suitable. Besides solving space constraints, the water-solar panel nexus can stop evaporation of water. Approximately 100 sqft of area is required for a meagre 1 Kw solar plant. And if we compare, we will see that space required for a 100 MW thermal power plant is less than 10 per cent of what a 100 MW solar plant would need. So, it is fair to assume that if not now, in near future using available land mass for solar installation will face flak. So, using waterbodies for solar generation is not just commendable, it is necessary for India and the world to secure the future of green energy, which serves our own individual and communal needs.

Now that we have factually settled the argument regarding the viability of using canal top and floating solar ideas, let us delve into the rising water crisis, that solar generation on water bodies can solve.

Serving Energy Saving Water

Not just a catchy line, it is one of the many major benefits of establishing more and more canal top and floating solar plants. India’s rapidly mushrooming population is estimated to reach 1.7 billion within 2050. But, challenges in providing clean, safe drinking water throughout the nation has always been constant in the country (and expected to rise with the population). Currently more than 76 million people in India still do not have access to clean and safe water supply. If the situation persists, India is estimated to face a 50 per cent water deficit within 2030. It is surprising because India is not a water scare country. We are blessed with rivers and our annual rainfall stand to 1170 millimetres (average). A closer inspection of the problem would show you that it is evaporation, pollution, and contamination that create clean water scarcity in the country.

As a remedy, we have the engineering marvel, that is capable enough to support solar panels on waterbodies and canal tops, saving water, while generating energy. These types of solar installations can reduce water evaporation, reduce growth rate of algae, and can become the reason to safe guard water bodies from waste disposal, keeping fresh water reserves in check.

The Inception and Growth

Canal Top Solar:

2012 was the year when the canal top solar installation in Gujarat, India, came out of the drawing board and started turning into reality. Having canals stretching to 80,000 kilometers, made Gujarat the perfect candidate for this project. After completion of the first project (1 MW capacity), Gujarat has taken multiple initiatives in establishing similar projects on canals understanding that approximately 90 million liters of water can be saved from evaporation through completely covering the canals in the state. 10 MW capacity solar installation on Narmada canals in Gujarat in 2015, has received commendations in global podium as well. Currently near about 100 MW of solar plant installations on and beside canals are in different stages of implementation in eight Indian states. Gujarat can serve as an example for the rest of the states in India to protect water while promoting green energy.

Floating Solar:

In 2015, India saw its first floating solar plant in Kolkata, West Bengal (one of the innovative projects of Vikram Solar). Being a lot challenging (from engineering standpoint) than any other solar plant installation type, the first of its kind floating plant received worldwide attention, and cleared a lot of confusion, showcasing best path to use- irrigation ponds, waste water treatment plants, drinking water reservoirs, water storage tanks, large lakes, dams and other waterbodies to harvest green energy, while saving water.

The first 10 kW project was just the beginning and drawing inspiration from the project, India aggressively started installing floating solar plants over water bodies. In March 2017, India installed its then largest 100 kW floating solar plant at Kayamkulam, Kerala. And within just 7 months (October) broke its own record installing 500 kW capacity plant in the same state (Kerala). It is estimated that if the country succeeds in utilizing even 1% of its 11583 square miles of contained water bodies through floating solar, it could generate more power than 15 medium to large coal fired power stations.

Understanding the implications of such endeavours, India has plans to install more than 20 MW of floating solar plants in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh. New projects are coming up and the future seems bright for floating solar sector in India.

These installation ideologies are only supported by engineering excellence, and it is a delight to see that we are changing, we are re-prioritizing our needs and trying to find a single solution for multiple problems. The way we are raising our efforts in protecting what is at stake (energy, water, the planet), assures future of solar energy; ultimately offering us sustainability as a legacy for the next generation.

However, the efforts need to be increased if we are to save primary elements of sustenance like water and energy, and fortunately we have already found the all-in-one solution in solar.

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  • One thousand units of ConextTM XW+ hybrid inverters at 5.5 kW and 6.8 kW power levels are being made available to distributors in Puerto Rico
  • These Conext XW+ units will immediately generate reliable power in Puerto Rico

Livermore, California, December 21, 2017 – Schneider Electric, the global specialist in energy management and automation is providing critical disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico markets leveraging their massive global infrastructure and local support.

Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico over 90 days ago and many residents are still without power making this the longest major blackout in U.S. history. Officials have estimated it could take four to six months to restore the power grid to full functionality. Schneider Electric is supporting the rebuild of several major solar and energy storage plants and aiding the locals by rapidly deploying off-grid products to regain power to their homes.

One thousand ConextTM XW+ hybrid inverters at 5.5 kW and 6.8 kW power levels are being made available to distributors in Puerto Rico. “Schneider Electric is continuing to support relief efforts in Puerto Rico. The Conext XW+ hybrid inverter is a unique off-grid solution. Our intent in supplying these units is to retrofit the existing non-functional photovoltaic systems that can provide much-needed power immediately. When the grid comes back online, the Conext XW+ units will work in conjunction with the grid and support its capabilities over the long term,” said Evan Vogel, Vice President of Marketing, Schneider Electric Solar.

As a business with a large local presence in Puerto Rico, local Schneider Electric teams are working with customers to offer relief to the affected areas. The primary focus is to ensure people regain access to reliable, safe energy as soon as possible.

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