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Returns dip, rooftop solar power scheme in Karnataka trips

The Centre had set a target of 40 GW of grid-connected solar plants in the country by 2022. However, only 15% of the target has been achieved. 
Last Updated : 30 June 2023, 02:28 IST
Last Updated : 30 June 2023, 02:28 IST
Last Updated : 30 June 2023, 02:28 IST
Last Updated : 30 June 2023, 02:28 IST

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When the rooftop solar programme was implemented in 2015, poultry farmers and other industrialists invested crores of rupees hoping to supplement their incomes. Now, seven years later, due to rigid policy guidelines, frequent grid power interruptions and maintenance issues, they are bleeding tens of lakhs of rupees.

Poor supply to grids has meant that 15-20 per cent of the power generated is lost, they say.

According to Bescom data accessed by DH, 6,419 people have opted for grid-connected solar rooftop photo-voltaic plants under the Karnataka Solar Policy 2014-21. In all, only 11,447 people have installed solar rooftop projects across five escoms in Bengaluru, Mysuru, Mangaluru, Hubballi and Kalaburagi.

Those who have installed solar panels say such problems may be why the uptake of the scheme has been slow.

Raja Srinivasappa, a poultry farmer in Kolar, for instance, spent Rs 14 crore on the project. Officials had estimated a return of Rs 2 crore annually. With this income, he expected to pay off the large loan soon and supplement his poultry farming income. “Though the investment was high, I expected good returns,” he says.

However, with an annual payoff of Rs 1.4 crore, Srinivasappa is unable to break even. Many farmers are unable to repay interest on loans availed to install solar panels.

The Centre had set a target of 40 GW of grid-connected solar plants in the country by 2022. However, only 15 per cent of the target has been achieved.

A major issue behind this reluctance is inconsistencies with net metering. Net metering allows surplus power produced by the rooftop systems to be fed back into the grid.

Interruptions in electric supply can disrupt the supply of surplus power generated by rooftop solar systems. “Frequent, unscheduled power cuts mean that the grid does not record the electricity generated,” he says.

Gopal Krishna, a Bengaluru-based farmer who sees the project’s potential, says, “We lose at least 15 per cent of the power generated.”

The upkeep of solar panels is an area of concern. The manufacturing company needs to intervene in case of glitches. In rural Karnataka, this can often prove arduous. Krishna Mohan (name changed), a Mangaluru-based farmer who installed 5 kW solar cells has experienced just how expensive maintenance costs can be. “There was a problem with the machine and it cost me 1/5th of the installation expense,” he says.

It can also take about 15 days to receive a repaired cell. During this time, the plant will effectively be running on losses.

“The panels also have a lifespan of 25 years, so we have a limited time to make our investment back,” Srinivasappa says.

Regulatory delays

According to guidelines of the policy, the photo-voltaic cells should be installed within six months. While some were able to fulfil this criterion, bureaucratic and regulatory impediments caused many to lose out on the proposed tariffs.

A Kolar-based farmer explains that he is unable to complete high loan repayment costs after he lost out on the Rs 9.56 per unit tariff. The tariff the government offered when he failed to meet the six-month stipulation was Rs 5. “There was no way I could make back my investment,” he says.

Chikkaballapur-based farmer Narayana Swamy, too, faced a similar ordeal. The reduced tariffs even prompted him to take his case to court. “The court case went on for three years. Though the court directed Bescom to pay an increased tariff, all the money has gone in paying off the loan,” he says.

Over the years, the cost has dropped from Rs 7 crore to Rs 5 crore per MW currently. As a result, Bescom pays a reduced tariff.

“Now, the government is offering Rs 3.5- Rs 4 per unit. A farmer will not be able to make the initial investment,” the Kolar farmer says.

Regarding problems that people are facing, state energy minister K J George says, “Whatever can be done to encourage people to install solar cells will be done. Solar energy is a priority for the government.”

Bescom: Reducing breakdowns

“There may be some interruptions in power supply during the monsoon and pre-monsoon periods due to physical damage to the network. This may cause some loss to people who have installed grid-connected solar cells. We have an automatic system in place in 75 per cent of Karnataka to record power failures and isolate the problem area. This way, we are minimising power interruptions,” Mahentesh Bilagi, managing director, Bescom.

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Published 29 June 2023, 19:06 IST

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