“Coronavirus gives India an opportunity to be solar rooftop manufacturing hub”
Amit Kumar, Senior Director, Social Transformation & Knowledge Management, TERI, speaks about the need for active public engagement and sensitization to promote the proliferation of solar rooftops in India. Incentivising DISCOMs further as well as facilitating financing for solar developers as well as consumers could be areas for the government to explore.
TPCI: What, in your opinion, are the factors responsible for the rise in the use of solar rooftops in India? Which are the key regions in India where such form of renewable energy can be tapped?
Mr. Amit Kumar (AK): One of the key factors in proliferation of solar rooftops in India, particularly in commercial and industrial sectors, has been high tariffs for grid electricity. This makes opting for solar rooftops an economically attractive proposition.
While almost all of India is good for solar rooftop systems from solar resource perspective; states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Gujarat have been at the forefront as far as installed capacities are concerned.
TPCI: What are the major challenges to attracting investments in this sector? How can the private sector be attracted?
AK: Investors in any field, including in this one, consider consistent policies as well as absence of political and regulatory risks as key criteria for their investment decisions. Lately, a combination of these, especially at the state level, has impacted long-term visibility of business in this area adversely. The effort, therefore, has to be to not only make the investment environment more conducive but more importantly, consistent.
TPCI: What are the lessons that India can learn from its international counterparts in the adoption of solar rooftop technology? How can India leap ahead of the curve?
AK: Long-term – and consistent – policy push, attractive feed-in-tariffs, and focus on small, distributed solar rooftop systems in a country like Germany are the elements worth taking note of. Given that distribution utilities (DISCOMs) are the key stakeholders in the solar rooftop segment, their buy-in and active stewardship is critical. Simultaneously, we require active public engagement and sensitization. In the residential sector particularly, easy availability of financing on the lines of consumer durable financing could very well provide the much needed impetus.
TPCI: What are the barriers (eg. lack of infrastructure, funds or technology) to scaling rooftop solar in the MSME sector in India? What can be done to eradicate these barriers?
AK: Financing, or access to financing on reasonable terms and the perceived credit risks have been the challenges being faced by Indian MSMEs in general. Faster adoption of solar rooftops too becomes a victim of these barriers, especially through OPEX or RESCO route (wherein the investments in solar rooftop systems are made by a solar company, which recovers that by way of sale of solar electricity to MSME). Wide-scale coverage of units under MSME Credit Rating Scheme of Government of India may perhaps also address these barriers.
TPCI: What has the government done so far to give a fillip to this sector? What can the government to promote this sector further?
AK: Governments (union as well as different state governments) have been bringing out the relevant policies and regulations concerning subsidies, financial incentives to DISCOMs, appropriate metering, and tariffs to promote solar rooftop systems. Incentivising DISCOMs further as well as facilitating financing for solar developers as well as consumers could be the areas to look into.
TPCI: How has the supply of solar rooftop owing to the supply chain disruption due to China been hit by COVD-19? When do you think the Indian industry can substitute the manufacturing of solar rooftop equipment?
AK: Just like any other sector dependent on supply chain from countries like China and Malaysia, the solar rooftop sector, too, would not remain untouched with this extraordinary development. The imports include not only solar panels but also the inverters as well as several components used in assembly of solar modules. Thus, any disruption in supply chain would have implications on our ambitious solar rooftop programme. However, this pandemic perhaps also gives us an opportunity to position India as an alternative manufacturing hub.
Amit Kumar, Senior Director, Social Transformation & Knowledge Management, TERI, is a mechanical engineer with specialization in thermal engineering from University of Roorkee (now Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee) where he was awarded the University Gold Medal. He has been working on the development and dispersion of cleaner and renewable energy resources-based technological solutions in India for over 35 years. Policy and programme formulation, through project implementation, the design and development of renewable energy technologies, as well as manufacturing of solar energy devices – are some of the areas where he has dabbled in his 35 year old career.