Recent news shows a move towards energy self-sufficiency: but are we on the road to energy independence and equity yet?

18 July 2013

Switch on the Sun campaign in Delhi, 2013


For 2 years now Greenpeace India has campaigned in various ways for Delhi to switch on the sun. Delhi enjoys 300+ days of sunshine in a year, and as the capital, is the face of the country. Unfortunately however, residents suffer from a double whammy of rapidly increasing electricity charges and a crippling power shortage especially during peak months. The demand-supply crisis will only deepen as the demand rises by an average of 6% per year, making it absolutely urgent to break the dependence of an inefficient, costly and highly polluting central grid system. With over 70% of Delhi’s power coming from outside the state, it’s time to break this chain and move towards energy independence.

And the good news is that his should be relatively easy. The solution, as Greenpeace India has been the lone voice propagating, is a ‘rooftop revolution’. As the second richest state, and the a city that is looking to project itself as world class, Delhi is not just in a position to, but indeed must move towards becoming a clean, green and safe city. And with its immense potential for solar power generation, and rapidly decreasing cost of solar power (up to 50% in the last 2 years) solar rooftop installations are the solution.

In the last two years Greenpeace has released two reports with research around this subject. The first ‘Powering Ahead with Renewables: Leaders and Laggards’ clearly showed  Delhi to be one of the worst performers on renewable purchase obligations (RPO), failing to meet their own meagre targets, while less financially sufficient states emerged as far better with regards to their RPO  performance. The second, ‘Rooftop Revolution: Unleashing Delhi’s Solar Potential’ talked about the viability and various models that could be used to tap into Delhi’s vast solar potential, and stated that with a level playing field and removal of regulatory hurdles, only 1.6% of Delhi’s land could be producing upto 2GW of energy by 2020. When all efforts to speak with the then Energy Minister of Delhi, Mr.Haroon Yusuf, fell on deaf ears, we arrived at his doorstep with solar panels to clearly communicate the need to switch on the sun. Shortly afterwards, after several meetings with the Environment, Power and Finance Departments, Delhi Government announced that a solar policy was in the works. Delhi however, went into election mode, and after a back and forth from the Department of Environment to the DERC, the policy got lost in the annals of Delhi Secretariat. At this time we also released an election manifesto demand on solar which was incorporated into the manifestos of the leading political parties including BJP and AAP. However, with the AAP government having resigned, there seemed little hope for any movement on this front before a new government came to power.

That assumption had proved to be incorrect in the recent past. An unusually proactive administration under the Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung has been drumming up the noise over solar rooftops. Early in July the NDMC announced its plans to use solar power to meet its needs. It will be feeding the power generated into the grid and 40 buildings have been identified for solar rooftop installations. Once installed, New Delhi would become the second ‘Solar City’ in India, leaving Chandigarh who got there first. The DERC which had released draft Net Metering guidelines in December last year has, after inputs from the public, almost finalized its guidelines. The DERC regulations are expected well before the end of the month. The lost rooftop policy and several projects for schools and hospitals have also come into renewed focus, and some DISCOMs like Tata Power are looking forward to assessing feed in tariffs and start procuring net meters. Even the Delhi Metro has announced plans for a rooftop solar power plant to meet its needs! While this certainly constitutes for good news, it is important to remember that there is much room for independence.

First and foremost, there is no clarity on preferential tariff for individuals and will only a 30% subsidy from the MNRE, it’s not enough to make domestic consumers move to install and produce solar through rooftops.

Secondly, the limiting of the boundaries of the ‘Solar City’ to NDMC, large chunks of which are known as Lutyens’ Delhi, while a good place to start, surely has scope for larger expansion through the three other municipal areas of the Delhi NCR region. In order to be truly equitable and inclusive, similar initiatives need to spring up in the remaining municipality zones, with proper support and incentives from the Government and DERC, for all of these are far more socio-economically disadvantaged as compared to NDMC, and lack that extent of urban planning – yet most of Delhi’s population resides here.

Thirdly, revisiting Greenpeace’s electoral demands from last year, while government buildings taking the lead in solar rooftop installations sets a great example, heavy consumers like the industrial and commercial sectors should be directed to meet at least 20% of their requirements through solar, thus reducing the burden of domestic consumers.

Finally, Delhi’s focus has been firmly on electricity and safety in the recent years and months. They should continue the trend by installing solar powered streetlights in dark corners of the city to make it both a ‘Solar City’ and a ‘Safe City’.

Delhi has a long way to go before reaching Energy Independence, and becoming a truly inclusive and safe Solar City. The right steps are being taken in this direction, but they are slow, and not nearly enough. It remains to be seen whether the new Government as and when it is sworn in, ratifies a robust solar rooftop policy to complement the DERC’s net metering guidelines, whether the DERC continues to demand strict implementation of RPO guidelines from DISCOMS and to what extent their Net Metering guidelines will promote and protect energy independence. Moving towards solar is not just a necessity but inevitability for Delhi. On our 67th Independence Day, here’s hoping we get there sooner rather than later!

Pujarini Sen is a renewable energy campaigner with Greenpeace India