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Make power while sun shines bright

BENGALURU: Blame it on the hiked tariff or random power cuts, citizens are turning to the more reliable sun. March 2016 saw Bescom receiving 1,395 applications for solar rooftop power supply system. Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (Bescom) data reveals that prior to March, the number of applications for solar rooftop systems was in the range of 106 to 396 between August 2015 and February 2016. In February, 218 consumers applied to go the solar way, and in January, 222 did the same.

From November 11, 2014, till date, it got 3,179 applications of which it has approved and signed power purchase agreements with 1,575 consumers to get excess solar power into the grid. The total installed capacity of solar rooftops is 740MW.

But Bescom sounds wary of the development. It says these are not just households wanting to tap solar power for domestic consumption, but about 40% of the applications came from those with only business motives. One company official said the Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC) gave consumers the liberty to set up solar rooftop systems of any capacity, and set the selling price to Bescom at Rs 9.56 per unit, which is luring more people to go the solar way.

"People with green homes consume very little energy, and if they opt for solar rooftop systems for 10KW or 20KW generation capacity or warehouses while registered as domestic consumers with us, they will give back a huge amount of energy to the grid and earn a lot of money. Our intention was that the solar rooftop scheme should benefit households to save on their electricity bill if they draw solar power and manage situations during power cuts. We requested KERC, while seeking tariff revision, for a cap on capacity for consumers, but it did not budge," he said.

Besides, industrial and commercial consumers who come under the high tension (HT) consumer bracket have increasingly started to move towards open access power. This means they buy renewable energy from private sources in the market at a low cost, which is also determined by the commission.

All this only drills deep holes in Bescom's pockets, it claimed, while petitioning for higher tariff in February.

A number of builders have also come forward to instal solar rooftop systems and be completely independent of the grid, said reliable sources in the utility. "Those building new apartments or houses or gated communities have applied too. They do not intend to connect to the grid at all, and depend completely on solar rooftop systems. We will sanction them the loadcapacity they estimate they will consume when the houses are fully occupied," he added.

Fearing the loss distribution companies will go through if KERC does not cap solar capacity, the energy department issued a circular on March 22, seeking to place a cap on the number of applications. The government wanted to add about 400MW of solar power through grid-connected systems and has achieved it, so the applications coming from consumers hereon will be scrutinized and a sanctioned load for each solar rooftop will have an upper limit.

However, experts see the trend in a different light. H Nandi, MD of MROTek, a leading solar rooftop system manufacturer in the country, said, "People used to ask about returns on investment but now they have understood the three priorities -- necessity, comfort and saving the environment.

Karnataka has failed to increase power generation, keeping increasing demand in mind - hydel does not work in summer, wind generation has not been very successful and thermal units go down every odd month because of maintenance. Power purchase, on the other hand, is costly at Rs 17 per unit, at present. The government should encourage people to contribute to the grid by using as much space as is available and tap solar power," Nandi said.

Times View

With more Bengalureans opting to generate their own solar power, it should spell good news to Bescom, which is always hard-pressed to meet the surging demand. It is also good that consumers are ready to pump power back into the grid, which will help ease up outages during peak summer. But Bescom is behaving illogically by trying to cap consumers' capacity, and the number of applications. Just when the tide is promising to turn, and awareness is building, the company is attempting to put up barriers. It should focus on zeroing in on profiteers and work towards cutting its losses.

 

Apr 8, 2016, Times of India