Solar energy: Your rooftop can be the first step to a clean environment

Solar energy: Your rooftop can be the first step to a clean environment

By Debalina Saha and Rabindra N. Bhattacharya

With the growing focus on renewable energy sources, India has set a 100 GW solar energy production target by 2022. Among these, 60 GW is set aside for utility-scale solar energy production, while 40 GW is the target fixed for rooftop solar power production (RTPV) by installing solar cells on the rooftop of buildings.

Months of pandemic induced lockdown last year and this year had given us the feel of clean air for some time. But it has inflicted upon us more injuries the pains of which are going to last longer, job losses, impoverishment of the vulnerable sections of the population, sufferings of the migrant labourers…to mention a few of them. This can no way indicate that a cleaner environment can be available only at the cost of reduced economic activities.

The wheels of the economy cannot be stopped as that threatens the livelihood and in turn life, but economic activities can be carried out in a more sustainable manner. Economic and social development entails economic prosperity, but a fallout of enhanced economic activity aimed at economic growth is pollution and resource depletion. A major source of this pollution is the production and utilisation of energy which is required to fire the production-related activities of us, humans.

The energy sector accounts for 70% of annual GHG (greenhouse gas) emission in the world.

The energy sector accounts for 70% of annual GHG (greenhouse gas) emission in the world and the reason behind this is the fact that we are still primarily dependent on fossil fuels like petrol, diesel and coal to meet our energy requirements.  A major intervention in the energy sector in the form of renewable energy usage and fuel-efficient technology is the call of the day. With this, we can avoid the depletion of exhaustible fossil fuels and get a cleaner environment.

India has set a target for renewable energy generation to 175 GW by 2022 of which 100 GW is the solar energy target and 60 GW is the target for wind energy generation.

The government of India has taken a step forward towards clean energy production by setting up the target for renewable energy generation to 175 GW by 2022 of which 100 GW is the solar energy target and 60 GW is the target for wind energy generation. Presently renewable energy comprises 23.6% of total installed capacity and if we add hydroelectricity to this the proportion is increased to 36%. Though installed capacity has increased, power production from renewable sources has not increased considerably, which is 21% of total power production in India at present.

Of the 100 GW target set for solar energy production in India, 60 GW is set aside for utility-scale solar power production and 40 GW is the target fixed for rooftop solar power production (RTPV) by installing solar cells on the rooftop of buildings. But solar energy generation from rooftop installations has miserably failed its target. Of the total installed capacity of 35.7 GW of solar energy production that existed at the end of the last fiscal year, 31.3 GW was under utility-scale solar energy production and 4.4 GW consisted of RTPV installation.

India has immense potential for solar energy production given the amount of insolation received over the year.

India has immense potential for solar energy production given the amount of insolation received over the year. RTPV can harness this potential in a big way, especially in high population density regions where land availability for utility-scale solar energy production is a big problem. In fact, the households can be hugely benefited from RTPV generation utilising the rooftop space economically. Apart from installation cost, there is no additional cost from power generation from RTPV. So, the electricity bill is reduced to a great extent.

Secondly, if a feed-in tariff mechanism is introduced the household can supply the excess power produced from RTPV to the grid and receive tariff payment against it. Thus, it becomes a source of income. If RTPV is fitted with a battery backup system, the battery can be charged during the day to provide electricity at night. Thirdly solar panel fitted on the terrace can prevent the rooftop from getting heated keeping the house cool even in the summer heat.

Apart from the wider environmental benefit of replacing coal-based thermal power production, RTPV has some socio-economic advantages as well, for example, it can induce employment generation for the production and installation of RTPVs. We see that in addition to providing low-cost power to the owner and user of RTPV it leads to a cleaner environment and provides job to the unemployed which can be seen as positive externalities (positive external impact of individual production/consumption activities).

In spite of the myriad benefit of the RTPV system, which a cost-benefit analysis might aptly reveal, RTPV has found limited penetration in India due to a number of hurdles faced by the RTPV sector. High cost of RTPV systems, lack of proper financial instruments to make the RTPVs affordable, inadequate technical expertise, low level of awareness about RTPVs, the reluctance of existing power utilities for fear of financial losses are some of the challenges faced by this sector.

Even when people are aware of the advantages of installing an RTPV system they are reluctant to do so as they cannot find a trusted source to install RTPV on their rooftop which can be attributable to the lack of an organised, well-functioning market for PV installations.

These bottlenecks can and should be removed for the larger benefit of society. The Discoms can join hands with RTPV installation companies. Since discoms are reliable and trusted source of power supply, people will be interested when the discoms from which they have been purchasing power for a long time installs RTPV in their homes. Instead of purchasing a costly RTPV system, the household can allow the relevant company to install RTPV on their rooftop and pay for the installation in terms of monthly tariff until the entire installation cost is repaid. In this kind of model also power tariff will be much lower than that of conventional power.

There has been a considerable reduction in the cost of power production from renewable sources like solar and wind energy.

There has been a considerable reduction in the cost of power production from renewable sources like solar and wind energy. We observe a steady shift from coal-based energy to renewable energy. This is evident from Coal India Limited (CIL) ‘s plans to set up 3000 MW of solar energy installation and NTPC’s venture into the renewable sector by setting up a subsidiary – NTPC Renewable Energy. With this steady shift, coal mines are on the path of becoming unprofitable staking the livelihood of the labour force attached to this sector. Expansion of the market for renewable energy can generate an alternative source of income for the workers in the production and installation of renewable energy generation units.

Solar and wind power has a drawback – lack of reliability – as power generation is dependent on the intensity of solar radiation or wind speed. This problem can be solved by installing PVs with battery systems. In recent times cost of battery storage systems has come down significantly. Connecting the RTPV system to the grid also has a number of advantages. When the power supply from RTPV is disrupted grid power can be utilised. Excess power during the day can be supplied to the grid.

Recently, the Ministry of Power in India has taken up a scheme to bundle solar and thermal power. Guidelines issued in July 2020 will allow clean energy to complement fossil fuel-based power to maintain an uninterrupted power supply in the grid. This will also mean a higher proportion of renewable energy in the power grid. Though in this case renewable power will be supplied by utility-scale generators, RTPVs can also contribute a good portion to this clean energy venture.

Another major contribution from the energy sector to environmental pollution is vehicular emission. Motor vehicles are a major source of urban air pollution. Vehicles using ICE (internal combustion engines) are one of the major contributors to air pollution all over the world. Electric vehicles that use battery power can lead to cleaner mobility. The government of India has taken up a strong policy stand related to electric vehicles (EV) in recent times which include reducing GST on EVs, tax deductions on interests paid on loans to purchase EVs, and GST cut on chargers of EVs.

The objective of the policy instruments is to replace the existing vehicles using ICE with electric vehicles. Thus the expansion of the use of EVs can reduce urban air pollution significantly. But it should be noted that when EVs are charged using electricity from the grid, which comprises mainly thermal power, there is an indirect negative impact on the environment as more coal-fired power is used for mobility.

The use of EVs does not entail a cleaner environment on a wider sphere unless we use renewable energy to charge the EVs.

Thus the use of EVs does not entail a cleaner environment on a wider sphere unless we use renewable energy to charge the EVs. Utilizing RTPV to charge EVs can be a possible solution. Moreover, powering EVs from RTPVs can provide an incentive for households to adopt RTPVs. In fact, the solar panel can be offered with the purchase of EVs as a composite commodity.

Expanding the use of solar energy by replacing conventional fossil fuel-based power can provide a solution to the rising pollution in a cost-effective way. As a first step, India should strive to expand its solar energy generation to harness the solar potential to the maximum that can provide twin benefit of cheaper power and a cleaner environment.

Also Read: How solar energy can be the best option for EV charging stations

(Debalina Saha is faculty of Economics, Centre for Excellence in Public Management (Civil Services Study Centre), Administrative Training Institute, Kolkata. Rabindra N. Bhattacharya is faculty of the School of Oceanographic Studies, Jadavpur University.)

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Autofintechs.com. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)

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