Bengaluru: Why residential rooftop solar fails to take off

RENEWABLE ENERGY IN CITIES

Residential rooftop solar
Bengaluru has the realisable potential of 2 GW, in terms of residential rooftop solar. Credit: Vishnu Gattupalli

Last year, BESCOM, Bengaluru’s electricity supply company, had called for applications from consumers to set up rooftop solar panels. BESCOM also launched a first-in-the-country project called CREST, a tool that enables consumers to evaluate their rooftop’s potential for solar energy production. 

These ambitious initiatives saw BESCOM receiving around 1200 applications for rooftop solar installations since March 2020, according to a trusted department source. But 250 consumers later withdrew their applications, according to S S Raghunandan, President, Karnataka Renewable Energy Association (KREA). 

Let’s crunch some numbers. Bengaluru has an actual realisable potential of 2.8 GW of solar energy. But the city that once was a pioneer in renewable energy-based power generation is nowhere close to the target as only 140 MW of rooftop solar generation has been commissioned as of September 2020. A recent survey by BESCOM showed that rooftops of 1.4 lakh buildings in the city have the potential to generate 2500 MW of solar power. 

Tariff order yet to be revised

So why did rooftop solar not pick up in Bengaluru despite BESCOM’S many initiatives? Why have consumers withdrawn their applications? 

The answer: BESCOM invited applications without adequate infrastructure preparation. 

“It has no installation team, no empanelled installers,” says S S Raghunandan. “What is unbelievable is the fact that the Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC) has not even revised the tariff order yet,” 

screen grab of the BESCOM website
On its website, BESCOM has not mentioned the absence of tariff orders for solar projects. 

The tariff order fixes the price per unit. Without a tariff order, BESCOM cannot sign PPAs (Power Purchase Agreements) with consumers. The last tariff order which had fixed the price per unit at Rs 3.99 expired on March 31, 2021, and has not been revised yet. KERC derives the cost per unit by taking into consideration parameters such as capital cost, generation capacity and utilisation and maintenance and running cost. 


Read more: Guide to installing a rooftop solar plant in your apartment


Bureaucratic hurdles

In the absence of a revised tariff order, BESCOM has not been accepting applications for rooftop solar for six months. 

“I was the third resident in the BESCOM region who installed solar way back in 2014,” recalls Dr Anil Sabaji, a resident of Dodkal Sandra “This cut my monthly electricity bill by Rs 2000-2500. BESCOM now pays me Rs 800-Rs 2100 for the excess solar energy we supply to their grid.”

But Dr Sabaji has been unable to install a 5 KW solar unit in another residential building. But BESCOM, rather than admit the lack of a new tariff order, is making consumers like Dr Sabaji run from pillar to post in vain. “My online application was not accepted as BESCOM cited a technical issue of their server,” says Dr Sabaji “When I tried to apply offline, they asked me to make an online application.” Dr Sabaji finally decided to withdraw his application. 

“Considering the pandemic, KERC should have extended the tariff order. Karnataka currently has no tariff order, the reason why we are losing a lot of potential on rooftop solar.” 

Gopinath C S, Founder and member-secretary, Karnataka Renewable Energy Association (KREA)

And why is the tariff order not revised yet?

“We are expecting an inspection visit from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE),” said a senior KERC official. “The policy will be revised after that”.

Only one empanelled installer

BESCOM evaluates the infrastructural capability (transformer capacity) of consumers to connect their excess solar power to the grid. Consumers have to get solar generators installed through empanelled installers notified by BESCOM, who quote the installation price to consumers subtracting the subsidy amount which will later be paid to them by the union ministry. 

Capacity Subsidy (percentage of installation cost)
Up to 3 KW40% 
From 3 KW to 10 KW20%
Above 10 KWNo subsidy amount
Credit: BESCOM

But despite calling for tenders, no solar energy installer participated. The tender fell through resulting in the BESCOM region presently having only one empanelled installer. “Ideally, BESCOM should have 300 installers to achieve its target,” says Raghunandan. 

The additional problem is that BESCOM’s tender has unrealistic expectations. “According to the tender, the installers should have a certified work of 2 MW which ensures that only big players can enter the market,” says Gopinath C S. 

Also, according to the tender, a copy of which Citizen Matters has, installers will receive the subsidy reimbursement from BESCOM over a period of five years. “It is literally paying consumers from our pockets and waiting for years to get the refund,” a solar energy installer pointed out. “How can we survive in the industry if there is no cash inflow?”

Engineers have to be bribed

After installation through empanelled installers, BESCOM engineers visit the site to inspect if it is as per their standards. They then issue a synchronisation order, which is needed for the excess solar energy to be supplied to the grid. A PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) will then be signed between the consumer and BESCOM for 25 years. 

BESCOM engineers have to be bribed to get a synchronisation order, says Dr Sabaji, who had to pay Rs 15,000 to get the order for his residential building in 2018.

BESCOM has a target of achieving 330 MW of subsidised solar energy in the next two years. Facilitating such rooftop solar generation is a win-win solution for the consumer and BESCOM. “This target will generate Rs 1650 crore for the solar industry and revenue to the government through GST,” says Raghunandan. “It will also prevent transmission loss that happens in conventional power”. 

BESCOM can realise this potential with proper implementation of the subsidy process along with a consumer-friendly and transparent computerised online documentation system.

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About Laasya Shekhar 1 Article
Laasya was a Senior Reporter at Citizen Matters. Prior to this, she worked as a reporter with Deccan Chronicle. Laasya has written extensively on environmental issues, women and child rights, and other critical social and civic issues. A Masters in Journalism from Bharathiar University, she has been experimenting at Citizen Matters with diverse formats varying from photos, videos and infographics for an interactive content presentation. Laasya is most proud of her work on beach encroachment and lake pollution, which the NGT took suo moto cognizance of. In her spare time, Laasya likes to play with her dogs, read and cook! She tweets at @plaasya.

13 Comments

  1. Best example how government schemes fail. It appears government is not interested in promoting solar energy as it brings no commissions to anyone

  2. Amazing & bold article bringing out the deep rooted lethargy & corruption in govt bodies.

  3. Hello
    I have constructed my house in Ullal and interested and thinking to instal 3-4 KW Solar Roof top. To whom should i approach. Pl guide me
    Thanks and Regardds

  4. A similar story is being seen in Rajasthan. I have initiated the process in February to get a rooftop solar but it is still not complete. This is not just me, when I visit the local JVNL (equivalent to BESCOM) office, I meet several people there who are sick of this never ending process. Even after getting the solar plant up and running there is problem with billing. Many people don’t receive electricity bills and are later penalized for not submitting the bill (Insane!!).
    I can give much more details about the whole process and hurdles I have faced if you want to do a story for this as well.
    From economic point of view, a rooftop solar plant makes all the sense in the world but all these hurdles are what is causing this to not really catch momentum.

  5. Bescom has become a black hole and now they are agitating against privatisation.
    My observation is there are very good and technical people in Bescom. Hopefully this also does not follow BSNL way ☺️

  6. There is no subsidy given when I installed in nov-2020. They said it is not approved by center yet. So don’t know which is true/false.

  7. Not sure I understand. Do you mean if I wanted to install solar on roof without having to worry about connecting back to grid I still have bribe them?

  8. The fundamental problem is in its conception. What is required is the space on rooftop be allocated to power producers are a fixed rent and power purchase agreement. Consumers do not get benefit of depreciation and inflation on which practically all capital investments survive

  9. It is a wonderful scheme. Affluent citizens should participate on this, there are many in Bangalore.
    But There are lot , quiet a lot of problem we face with BESCOM, Talk to clients who already installed this to know and come up with
    best process to make it success.

  10. If corporation & BDA makes solar power unit compulsory while issuing completion certificate,then it will definately success provided there is room for bribing.

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