How Successful are the Residential Rooftop Solar Panels in India?
Knowledge increases when you share it. I could not have agreed more had I not experienced this practically as a journalist and a writer for the past 12 years. Now I dig and dive into anything I see and translate it into paper for others to know.
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Solar power is the green source for energy and reduces carbon footprint. Increase in the number of solar power installations and production and transmission of solar power is good for country’s GDP and for environmental conservationists. According to Global Market Outlook for solar power published in Feb 2019, India was assumed to move up to 2nd place in solar power production after it secured rank 3 in 2017, but that did not materialize. It indeed is an achievement in itself as the country stands at 25 GW (gigawatts) of grid-connected solar power capacity as compared to 9 GW in 2015. Though being a tropical country, India is not able to secure top spot in solar energy production.
As per ‘Vibhuti Garg’ (Energy Economist, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis), “The Government of India in 2015 set a huge renewable energy capacity target of 175 GW by 2022 for transitioning to a low-carbon pathway. Of this, 100 GW was earmarked for solar capacity with 40 GW (40%) expected to be achieved through decentralized and rooftop-scale solar projects.”. However, it is also important to understand few fallouts that rooftop solar panels may face in the coming years. Before understanding its fallout let’s take a brief look at what rooftop solar panel is.
Rooftop Solar Panels
Rooftop solar panel is a small, square-shaped semiconductor that is manufactured from conductive materials like silicon. Rooftop solar panel depends on the ability of the solar cells to harness the energy of the sun and convert it to electricity. When sunlight strikes the solar cells, chemical reactions are initiated that release the electrons and generate electric current.
Though Government aims to make India the highest consumer of solar energy, India’s journey to the top is hindered due to economic challenges. Unlike the West and Europe, the domestic market does not have enough money to install panels, alongside batteries and inverters. Moreover, solar panels are fragile and need extra expense to maintain, which adds to the cost of installing rooftop solar panels.
Sporadic change in the weather is another factor hampering the popularity of rooftop solar panels. For example, if it is cloudy or raining, the rooftop solar panels become useless, generating little or no power. Adding to it, the increasing level of dust and pollution reduces the chances of producing electricity at an optimum level. Dust, lack of water and hardness of water high temperatures are also said to be the causes for India’s struggle with its solar sector.
They not only increase the cost of operating solar power plants in the country but also obstruct the optimum production of electricity. It is noteworthy how the level of dust particles and the type of dust vary from one place to another. For the electricity bill reduction and revenue generation, solar power system should be connected to the grid. The maintenance of panel is difficult due to hardness of water and shortage of skilled labours. It also affects the energy supply to residences that have linked themselves to the grids.
Challenges for Rooftop Solar Panels in India
01. Cleaning and Maintenance
Regular cleaning and maintenance are the major drawbacks of the rooftop solar panels. The places which are more prone to dust and sand have major maintenance issues. The solar panels need to be cleaned twice every month. The alluvial dust particles, if present, may turn into mud during rainfall and hamper transparency and penetration of sunlight to solar cells. Hardness is water is another challenge because hard water is unsuitable for cleaning solar panels. And if you choose any technology like reverse osmosis for converting the water type, it is costly and time-consuming. Consequently, all these problems increase the operational costs and give an impact on the production of electricity.
Nevertheless, there are various ways to counter the issue, for instance anti-soiling technology like dust-free glass with self-cleaning hydrophobic nano-coating which stops dust from sticking to the glass of the module. This is possible at an industrial scale, but with majority of middle-class population, implementing this at a domestic scale would mean investment of lots of money.
02. Lack of Professional Workforce
The professional workforce trained in cleaning solar panels is sparsely available in India. While small and big industries can afford to hire them, individual apartments and houses would be unwilling to do so because of the cost involved.
03. High Capital Cost, Still Unaffordable
Rooftop solar panel Installation is quite expensive. It also requires installation of batteries to convert direct electricity to alternating electricity to generate consumable power. Getting attached to a grid is another way of saving money, however that requires immense paper work and other formalities to be completed with bureaucratic power supply companies, mostly government companies/department.
The Indian government has launched many national schemes/subsidies to promote the use of solar energy. Yet the payback i.e. return of initial high capital cost is 4 to 6 years and that could be one of the reasons why people hesitate to install rooftop solar panels. This is after handsome government subsidy. However, with massive demand and production, the cost is likely to go down and it may become viable and affordable within few years leading to a new energy revolution.
04. Limited Space Available / Limited Land or Terrace Area
Even if one is ready to bear the installation costs of rooftop solar panels, space becomes a major reason of concern. As already discussed, procuring a suitable plot to install grids is a major challenge in the country. Even if that is achieved, grid evacuation becomes the next obstacle. And if you think about terrace then these days, there are less independent houses and more apartments. With increased awareness about the benefits of solar panels, everyone is eager to use the solar power. But enough space is not available. Further many old houses have Mangalore tile roofs which will not allow such installation easily. We will have to come up with wall paneling, too.
05. Rate of Return
A solar panel can be beneficial only if there is an adequate roof or vacant land to install a panel, big enough to meet all your electricity expenses. However, if that does not happen, your expenses are distributed over a period of more than 4 to 6 years, which is pretty long term in a way, adding to the discouragement of residential owners. If the cost of land is taken into account; the viability would be still bigger.
06. Financing of Solar Projects
Financing solar projects at a massive scale would require a debt of $10 million every year. There are very few banks which finance such long-term solar projects. This, in turn, discourage the residential solar buyers from opting for solar energy. Further, if you borrow and pay interest, the payback time would be still more.
Calculations for Solar Plant Selection, Rate of Return & Payback Time
The table below shows the scheme for Residential Rooftop Solar Projects – 2018-19, according to ‘Gujarat Energy Development Agency’.
According to this scheme, Central government of India gives 30% subsidy on the cost of solar system and state government (Government of Gujarat) gives subsidy RS. 10000 Per kW subjected to maximum of Rs.20,000 for residential solar system. (The state subsidy will vary from state to state)
Let’s Take an Example for Easy Understanding
Here, all calculations are given according to above table.
If the electricity requirement of one house is 190 units or kWh per month, then let us calculate area, initial cost and the size of the plant required for solar panel installation.
Monthly electricity consumption is 190 units. Hence annual consumption is 190*12 = 2280 units (kWh).
If you chose the 1kW plant, it means 1-hour power generation is 1kW. If we take average solar radiation 5.5 hours per day; therefore, the power generation of 1day is 5.5 kWh (units).
Now, assume the number of sunny days is 320 then annual power generation will be 320*5.5 = 1760 kWh (units). But considering average let us assume it at 1650 units/year.
See, in this case, annual power consumption is 2280 units and generation is 1650 units. So, 1 kW plant is not enough.
Now, take a look for 2 kW plant.
Per day power generation is 5.5*2 = 11 kWh, so annual power generation is 320*11 =3520 kWh (units).
Hence, as per the above calculation, 2 kW plant is sufficient. According to the above table, the roof area required for this plant size is 200 sq. ft. and the cost of this plant is RS 47,620. Now, let’s discuss about rate of return.
If annual power generation is 3520 units you will save Rs. 21,120 considering. (Rate of electricity per unit is 6 Rs. Thus, annual rate of return is 6*3520 = 21,120 Rs.) The estimate cost of operation and maintenance will be around Rs. 6000 per year. Hence net saving will be Rs. 15120. Thus, you can recover the cost in in 3.5 years.
Hence, if you have enough money for initial investment with patience for a total recovery of initial cost and the roof area for panel installation, then the solar panel is the best idea, but if not, then you have to wait for some more time.
If you have a large terrace area it may become possible that your power bill will come down to zero and you can supply power on grid to supply company. (They buy at a low rate). Or else you can always save your power bill and after initial period of 4 to 6 years. You will get almost free power.
Summing up, the solar sector in India is trying to balance between the country’s increasing demand for solar power visa vis the socio, political and economic scenario. The solution is simple but the challenges and the roadblocks that lay ahead have to be removed.
Apart from being a green energy, solar power also saves you from the stress of load shedding. If you are thinking for installation of rooftop solar panels for your house, then consider all the parameters such as your power consumption, power generation from the solar panel, rate of power, the value of power generation, cost of operation, net savings, payback etc. These parameters are essential for selecting the size (capacity) of the solar plant and the area requirement for a solar plant.