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 Why have consumers withdrawn their applications?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,”
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.
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.
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 KW||40%|
|From 3 KW to 10 KW||20%|
|Above 10 KW||No subsidy amount|
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.