- Odisha has the highest installed capacity of renewable energy in the eastern India region. Rooftop solar net metering systems are now emerging in the state but there are several challenges preventing growth.
- Grid connected solar rooftops, which use net meters, are incentivised by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) but are yet to gain traction in Odisha.
- Low awareness, lack of policy clarity and delays in installation and subsidies are some of the reasons that this programme, which is meant to boost clean energy growth, is yet to become popular in the coastal Indian state.
Rairangpur is a city in the Mayurbhanj district of Odisha, which recently came into the limelight when Droupadi Murmu, who hails from the city, was elected as the 15th President of India. While Murmu took the pioneering step as the first person from the tribal community becoming the President in the national capital, back at Rairangpur another pioneering step was being taken – on the renewable energy front. In July this year, Rairangpur’s first on-grid residential solar rooftop, with a net meter, was installed. This setup enables its customer to become a prosumer, which means they produce solar energy for their captive needs and also export the excess energy to the electricity grid.
Net meters refer to the electricity meters installed on the premises of solar consumers whose solar panels are connected to the electricity grid of their area. The electricity consumers who use net meters are called as “prosumers” as they produce solar electricity and also consume their own electricity besides utilising the grid energy in case the solar energy they produce falls short of their power needs. Their monthly electricity bill is calculated as the total electricity consumed by them with the total solar electricity exported by them deducted. As they produce and export energy, the solar prosumers usually end up with lower electricity bills compared to households using only conventional energy from the grid.
The solar energy vendors in the state who installed the on-grid solar rooftop in Rairangpur said that the concept is fairly new in the smaller towns of Odisha. “In Rairangpur and many smaller towns of Odisha the growth of solar on-grid systems which are connected with net meters are very new and not seen rapidly. As far as this city is concerned, we see some off-grid solar systems here but recently we installed the first residential net-metered solar rooftop in the city,” Gaurav Pattanaik, Director of CRUX Power told Mongabay-India.
Solar rooftop and net metering yet to gain popularity in Odisha
These solar net metering projects come under the MNRE’s grid-connected Rooftop Solar (RTS) programme. Grid connected solar rooftops (which use net meters) is incentivised under the Rooftop Solar (RTS-II) project of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) which gives subsidies upto 40 percent to individual households and residential apartment complexes that install on-grid solar panels. Under the RTS-I, the state was able to achieve installation of 3.8 megawatt (MW) of solar energy. Under RTS-I, the state renewable energy agencies were the nodal agency for such projects while under RTS-II, the DISCOMs in state take up such projects.
Overall, the solar rooftop and net metering concept in Odisha is facing certain challenges – lack of awareness, no strong policy, delays at the power distribution company level, among others – which have delayed the growth of the technology across the state.
Solar energy vendors say that solar net-metering is more popular among the industrial and commercial customers who are not entitled to subsidies now. There are fewer takers among the residential customers despite the incentives such as reduced electricity bill and subsidies.
Sharthak Shankar Bhagat, Founder of Whiteshark, one of the empanelled solar energy developers based in Bhubaneswar, told Mongabay-India, “The technology is not only clean but also helps in reducing the monthly electricity bills. But we find more interest in the technology among the industrial and commercial users and less among the residential ones.”
When asked about the challenges in the sector and less growth in the state, he said, “There are several issues which have affected its growth. There is lack of awareness not only among the power consumers, but also among the distribution companies (discoms) which are the nodal agencies that receive applications for installation of such systems and also implement the setup with the help of solar energy vendors. Although the timeline for installation of net meters and solar panels has been reduced from 90 days to 30 days in the state by the discoms, in many cases they are installed after 30 days. Such delays often discourage customers who are eager to opt for this.”
Need for clear norms and policy
Experts working in the renewable energy sector in Odisha claimed that the growth of solar net-metering in the state suffers because of the lack of clear cut norms and Standard Operating Protocols (SOP). Solar energy stakeholders in the state have approached the Odisha Electricity Regulatory Commission (OERC), an autonomous regulator under the state which facilitates power sector reform, urging it to work towards creating a roadmap and SOP on solar net metering.
The OERC, in a latest development, has taken on a case for issuing of SOP on net metering suo motu and asked for public inputs. In its suo motu petition, the state commission noted that the state aims to boost solar energy as the threat of distribution losses in solar energy is lower compared to the losses in conventional energy, as the solar energy is consumed locally. OERC had earlier issued norms for the growth of net metering in the state. After a wider consultation, the OERC now plans to roll out an SOP on the issue to ensure faster growth of the solar net-metering technology in the state.
Chandrashekhar Mishra is the Chairman of the Solar Energy Society of India (SESI)-Odisha Chapter. He told Mongabay-India, “The state still lacks an SOP on solar net metering. It was never issued by the state energy department or the concerned discoms leading to confusion on the same among vendors and consumers. It is just now that OERC has started working on that. There have been cases in Odisha of irregular metering for on-grid customers. There have been cases where consumers received bills in 9-10 months. Delays in disbursement of subsidies put the vendors and consumers at losses and uncertainty. Such acts on rooftop solar schemes have only added trust deficit and that is why not many vendors are also reluctant to join hands with the discoms on net-metering,”
He also claimed that if the sector gets an impetus in rooftop solar in the state, it could also help the state to achieve its Renewable Purchase Obligations (RPOs) easily. RPOs refers to the mandatory obligations of states/discoms to buy a certain percentage of their total energy from renewable sources.
The energy distribution in Odisha is taken care of by Tata Power through different region wise discoms like Tata Power Central Odisha Distribution Limited (TPCODL) and its unit in western, northern and southern regions. Two years ago in 2020, it started taking over the reins of power distribution in the state from the state-owned discoms.
The state renewable agency-Odisha Renewable Energy Authority (OREDA) claimed that the whole business of solar rooftop is now taken care of by discoms which have now got revised targets for RTS by the MNRE. It however also admitted about the delay in subsidy to the consumers.
“The RTS scheme has helped many commercial and residential units to switch to clean energy. In the first phase of RTS, a total of 113 connections were given and we added a total of 3.6 MW of solar energy with rooftops. In the second phase each discom has been given the target of generating 5MW of solar energy under the RTS Phase II. However, the second phase has just started,” an official from OREDA told Mongabay-India, requesting anonymity. The official admitted that many consumers who applied for the subsidy under the scheme need to pursue the subsidy from MNRE which is a time-consuming process and has become a deterrent for people interested in the programme.
Amid all these existing challenges, some attempts are now also made at the central and state level to expedite the growth of rooftop solar. The Union government recently launched a national portal to receive applications for subsidised on-grid solar rooftops for residential buildings. Whiteshark’s Sarthak said that even at the state-level the local DISCOM has started an online application with time bound installation assurance where the consumers are entitled to pay only the real amount of installation after deducting the subsidy amount which can help the consumers to tackle the issue of delayed receipt of subsidies.
Under the latest MNRE norms on RTS-II (Phase II), the residential consumers are entitled to get a subsidy of 40 percent for installation of solar rooftops on their buildings. The solar tariff in the state is based on the usage slabs which starts from Rs 2 per unit with the peak going upto 6.2 per unit. According to the solar vendors in the state for installing a 1 kilowatt solar rooftop, a residential customer has to shell out around Rs 50,000.
High tariff a deterrent
In addition to the delay in installation of solar meter connections and delay in subsidy another issue hampering the growth of solar energy in the state, claim power experts, is the tariff of solar energy in Odisha which is one of the highest in the country.
Anand Mohapatra is a power analyst from the state. He told Mongabay-India, “There needs to be emphasis on green tariff for the customers who want to opt for solar energy. However, the problem in Odisha is that the solar tariff here is among the highest in the country and above the national average. This is a deterrent for the growth of solar energy in the state.”
At the regional level, Odisha has the highest installed capacity of renewable energy in the entire eastern India region. According to the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) data, by the end of July 2022, the total installed capacity of power in the state stands at 7648.05 MW of which a little over 8% – 626.98 MW – comes from renewable energy sources. Majority of the clean energy produced in the state comes from solar energy as wind energy is still a non-starter in the state due to low productivity potential of wind energy in the state.
Banner Image: Rooftop Solar in Surat, Gujarat. Representative image. Photo by VD Photography/Unsplash.