As power cuts strike northern India, new rules mean solar panels could answer energy security problems
By Neeta Lal in New Delhi
A power crisis crippled north India this summer, with daily power cuts of up to five hours in the capital city of New Delhi.
Regional governments are increasingly looking to solar power to solve the problem. An estimated 300 million Indians have no access to electricity.
The governments of four Indian states – Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh – have already put in place policies to support solar power.
In January, the government of southern Karnataka too launched a rooftop solar policy, to install 2GW of capacity by 2020. This will allow households and enterprises that generate their own power to sell their excess electricity to the state grid.
Starting this month, citizens and enterprises across New Delhi will also be able to generate their own solar power. This will cut the load on an overburdened national grid while shaving off precious rupees from their own power bills.
Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC), the power regulatory watchdog, last week announced regulations for the net metering of renewable energy. That will allow stakeholders to supply power to the grid, receive energy credits and adjust the amount against their electricity bills.
Malls, hospitals, schools, hotels, government buildings and residents have been generating solar power for private consumption for some time.
The new regulation gives them the right to be connected to the grid, so the best use can be made of their power. If customers generate more than they use, they get energy credits to use in the next billing cycle.
Deepak Khokar, a retired official from the department of environment, said: “Solar energy is a cheap and sustainable option for bridging the supply-demand gap in the city. It can empower citizens to become more independent and whenever parity is reached for a consumer segment it can reduce their power tariffs.”
The step will also reduce the city’s dependence on coal for power generation, he added. Forests are being cut down to clear the way for coal mining, while burning the fuel causes air pollution.
According to World Health Organization data, New Delhi is the world’s most polluted city. It has an average of 153 micrograms of small particulates, known as PM 2.5, per cubic metre. As many as 10,000 people a year may die prematurely in Delhi as a result of air pollution.
Delhi also has a history of power shortages. Despite borrowing power from neighboring states, each summer the capital city of Asia’s third largest economy grapples with a power crisis.
The landscape of power supply is also changing fundamentally: grid power prices continue to rise as the power supply deficit continues to widen.
“Generating stations within Delhi have a capacity of 1,345 MW (55% coal and 45% gas) which leaves Delhi with a shortfall of 4,297 MW from its peak demand of about 5,642 MW,” an official at the ministry of power explained.
Despite the dire power situation, the Delhi government ditched a rooftop power plan in 2011 as “unfeasible” due to the cost of solar panels. Since then, a sharp drop in the cost of solar power (by as much as 50% in the last two years), has prompted the government to reconsider.
A Greenpeace report says Delhi could generate 2GW of solar power by 2020. This could rise to 123GW, more than 20 times peak power demand, if the whole territory were covered in solar panels.
Prime minister Narendra Modi has been an advocate of clean energy projects. He even penned a book on Gujarat’s response to climate change.
However Modi’s recent actions and words belie his image as an environmental crusader. To the consternation of the environment lobby, he dismissed the science of climate change in a speech to school students on 5 September.
“Climate has not changed. We have changed…our tolerance and habits have changed. If we change then God has built the system in such a way that it can balance on its own,” he said.
Modi is not expected to attend this month’s United Nations summit on climate change, signalling tepid support for a global pact to slash greenhouse gas emissions. India’s contribution is significant, as the world’s third highest emitting country.
But whatever Modi’s views on climate change, renewables are seen as an important way to boost energy security. Regulatory officials say clean energy sources could generate up to 70% of India’s electricity by 2030.
A government report published in April said it needed US$ 834 billion to place its economy on a low carbon trajectory by 2030.