15 May 2013

Delhi RE action outside Delhi energy minister Haroon Yusuf residence. © Greenpeace India


So Delhi’s solar eclipse is finally receding. After two years of dilly-dallying and releasing a restrictive version of net-metering guidelines last November that clearly attempted to block the sun over the national capital, the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission has finally corrected its past mistakes.

On Tuesday, the DERC released new net-metering guidelines that will play a positive role in the upscaling of solar rooftop in the national capital and will buffer Delhiites against electricity cuts and tariff-increase shocks. For a start, the fresh guidelines give a consumer complete freedom to put up any number of solar panels as his roof would allow, thus giving every Dilliwala the chance to turn into an electricity producer, managing his own little power house.

Second, the uniform and standardized net-meters, which must be brought from the power distribution companies, ensure that there is no chance to tamper with the mechanism. The added advantage that units generated can carry over in the next billing cycle ensures that every ray that falls on the panels does not go waste.

With coal getting expensive and power companies passing on the increased costs to consumers, Delhi has witnessed a steep 45% hike in power tariffs within the last two years alone. In June this year, when temperatures reached a sizzling 47.8 degrees Celsius, the city tripped at 5,600MW, leading to a shortage of 400MW or 2-10 hours of power cuts across the capital. Solar can thus help Delhi tide over this unending loop of power cuts and tariff hikes.

With over 300 days of uninterrupted sunshine, Delhi is solar energy’s paradise. According to a report issued by Greenpeace and Bridge to India last year, Delhi can produce 45% (2,557MW) of its peak electricity demand by tapping only 4.42% of the available rooftop area. Nearly half of this potential comes from residential buildings.

But this potential and solution to Delhi’s power woes will continue to lie waste unless the DERC and the state government help the city walk over the next hurdle: cost.

Currently, a 1kW system costs around Rs 80,000-1,00,000. A 30% subsidy given by the MNRE will bring down the cost only marginally, leaving the consumers jittery of making a substantial investment. Delhi thus urgently needs a solar energy policy announcing preferential subsidies and tariffs that will make clear financial sense for Delhiites to book their roofs with solar panels. In Tamil Nadu, for example, solar rooftops picked up in popularity after the subsidy provided by the state and Centre together reduced the cost by 50%.

In addition, a solar policy would bring in time-bound targets that can get the investors and consumers moving, creating a robust, self-sustaining market. Not to mention, it can help the state fulfil its Renewable Purchase Obligation or green energy targets, in which the national capital has consistently been the worst performer.

The announcement of the net-metering guidelines comes at the right moment when there is a national focus on maximizing renewable energy to meet the country’s energy demands. The DERC and the Delhi government need to continue this momentum generated on solar rooftops by announcing the right policy with the right kind of financial incentive mechanism.

Let's hope that solar cells are soon integrated into the DNA of this beautiful city. Because when that happens, we can be sure that Delhi will never fall back into darkness again.

Neha Khator is a media consultant at Greenpeace India