Rooftop solar is a much better bet for India than large-scale renewable energy projects

In a letter to RK Singh, Union Minister for Power and NRE, with copies to Bhupender Yadav, Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Dr Rajiv Kumar, Vice Chairman, NITI Aayog, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, senior power and policy analyst Shankar Sharma has said that rooftop solar is a much better bet for India than large-scale renewable energy projects, wondering, “How much land would be needed to power a net-zero India by 2050 through large size projects?” Text:

While referring to many of my emails during the last few months, including that of July 21, 2021 w.r.t the great relevance of roof-top solar power systems and storage systems to our country, may I draw your kind attention to yet another news article, as to how they are critical for India’s future keeping in objective view the overall welfare of our communities? Whereas, there have been numerous articlesreportsadvices/ warnings, including my recent representation of June 25, 2021 to the government of Karnataka with a cc to you, it is a very serious concern that there are no discernible actions visible on the ground across the country to take our communities on to a sustainable energy future through a diligently planned energy policy and to optimally harness the humongous potential in rooftop SPV system and storage system.

Adding massively to various societal concerns is the projection of massive chunks of land needed for large size solar power parks. “A new study by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis’ (IEEFA) says solar (meaning the land based solar power parks) could occupy in the range of 50,000-75,000 sq km of land by 2050 …”. It  should be anybody’s guess whether a densely populated and already resource constrained country like India can afford to lose so much of our land resource; however erroneously our authorities may classify them as barren /waste/ infertile lands.

These and many other associated and serious concerns of our country have been aggravated because of the news report that “45 solar parks with 37 GW capacity are approved under solar park scheme” as in another news item below.”  Two other news items on the proposal to massively add to nuclear and dam-based power plants with massive potential for the abuse of land resources and the general environment will add greatly to many such concerns.  India’s unenviable performance with regard to massive environmental degradation because of its preference to coal power industry is already well known across the globe.

In addition, there are very many benefits of critical importance to our society from such an approach, as further detailed in one file enclosed to this email. The news article “Rooftop solar is a better bet for India than large-scale renewable energy projects” has not only highlighted enormous benefits of rooftop SPV systems, but also discussed many relevant issues, such as ecological footprint and diversion of fertile/ less fertile agricultural lands and forest lands, demand for enormous quantity of fresh needed for large size solar power parks (not only for setting up land based solar power plants; but also for the associated dedicated transmission lines, which may be in use for 20-25% of the time only).  

There are also additional benefits of rooftop SPV systems such as: vastly reduced T&D losses in the local/ regional/ national power network; consequent improvement in the voltage profile across the grid; completely absent or minimised need for additional T&D infrastructure; vastly reduced burden on the state/ public finances (through tapping of the financial resources of PROSUMERS or private parties); direct/ indirect participation of consumers/ prosumers in the operation of the power network; additional revenue for our farmers (through feedback mechanism from the solar powered IP sets); reduced subsidy burden for the DISCOMS/ state govt. w.r.t farmers etc. 

Most of the articles appearing in the media seem to be ignorant of all these dimensions of large/ small size solar power systems to our country. Most of these issues are also relevant to small size wind turbines and bio-energy units.When we also objectively consider the fact that domestic, commercial, public and street lighting, and agricultural loads put together will form 60-70% of the total electricity load in the country, it should become eminently clear that these individual loads, which are also small in magnitude, will be best served by distributed type of renewable energy sources; especially the rooftop solar pV systems. 

The enormous potential of rooftop SPV systems in the country can be illustrated by a simple back of the envelope calculation: Out of about 30 Crore households expected by 2032, 10 Crore houses could be assumed to be strong enough, financially as well as structurally, to support rooftop SPV systems.  Assuming an average of 1,000 sq ft of rooftop surface area for each of these houses, the total potential for installing SPV systems on such surfaces can be about 1,000,000 MW @ 1 kW per 100 Sq. ft of roof surface. Even if only 50% of roof top surfaces in each of the other categories of building (offices & shops, educational institutions, FCI godowns, bus-stations, railway stations, airports, industrial sheds etc.) are considered for this purpose, the potential is enormous; running to many millions of MW. Whereas, the so called ‘issue of the economy of size’ (associated with solar power parks) may appear a serious constraint in fully harnessing the potential of rooftop SPV systems, we must not forget the vast societal benefits to be accrued from rooftop SPV systems. 

When we consider the issues of T&D loss, voltage At the societal level the net benefits from rooftop SPV systems can be many times more than the ‘issue of the economy of size’ of solar power parks. Almost all such RE potential can be installed without having to divert any agricultural or forest or revenue land, and at the lowest overall cost to the society, but with multiple benefits to our communities such as assured power supply, local management of associated resources, huge rural employment opportunities, social justice etc.Taking all these factors into objective consideration, the continued preference of the Union and state governments to invest in/ encourage the large size solar power parks, at humongous overall costs to the country, can be termed as suicidal to say the least.  It is unimaginable that no one among the scores of bureaucrats, advisors, secretaries, think tanks, consultants, govt. agencies such as CEA, CPSUs, NITI Aayog etc. have deemed it necessary to holistically consider all such associated issues from the perspective of the overall welfare of our people.  

It can also be stated as vastly regressive in nature for a democratic governance that despite very many such credible articles and representations, including many from this email id, the Union and state governments continue to invest in/ encourage the large size solar power parks (and other kinds of unsustainable power generation technologies) without any national level discussion, without any substantiation on the relative costs and benefits, and without any credible policy statement such as national energy policy.

On behalf of all the concerned individuals in the country, may I urge the Union govt. once again to diligently review all its associated policies in this regard so as to adequately protect the country’s natural resources so that our communities continue to hope to have a chance of surviving the fast looming threats of Climate Change?  Can we hope to see any credence to the much touted slogan: sub ka saath, sub ka vikaas, sub ka vishwas?

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