Incentivise, don’t make a rule

solar panels

A proposal by Bangalore Electricity Supply Corporation Limited (Bescom) to make provision for roof-top solar panels a pre-requisite for building plan sanctions may be well-intentioned, but should all such projects be mandatory, instead of voluntary and participatory? The move, which has received Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy’s nod seeks to give new life to a two-year-old similar proposal that has received a lukewarm response from the public. Of the 53.1 lakh electricity consumers in Bengaluru (Urban) and 22.3 lakh in Bengaluru (Rural), only 986 and 1,259 buildings, respectively, have installed solar panels. Other cities that have sought to make roof-top solar panels compulsory haven’t fared better. In Chandigarh, the residents have given the rule the thumbs-down despite being offered a 30% subsidy.

Coupled with the usual public apathy, the solar panel initiative has not taken off due to various factors like additional project costs, lack of roof-top space, aesthetic values, dearth of clarity on buy-back of power by electricity supply companies, poor enforcement and an overall absence of awareness. Though experts believe that solar power installations would pay for themselves over a period of time, the returns depend on various variables like the size of solar panels, the subsidy available and the amount of sunshine round the year. In its latest effort, Bescom is trying to sweeten the deal by helping consumers obtain bank loans and through other incentives, but it remains to be seen if they will bite the bait.

However, the government should first do its homework well before the formal rollout, lest this proposal, too, should meet the fate of rain water harvesting (RWH), where non-compliance is almost 50%. While the common man is heavily penalised for not installing the RWH mechanism, bureaucrats and politicians who allow thousands of cusecs of rain water flow into contaminated lakes, thereby rendering it useless, go scot-free. Worse, the Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) is unable to account for 50% of the water supplied, which is lost due to pilferage or leakage. In the power sector, power transmission and distribution losses in Karnataka, though among the lowest in India, still stands at about 10%. It is imperative that the government checks the enormous waste of resources such as water and power at the level of the utility agencies, instead of taking the easy way out and shifting the burden onto citizens. Making RWH or roof-top solar mandatory and threatening penalties does not work. The only way to get people to move towards these admittedly necessary measures is to educate and incentivise them to adopt these.

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Incentivise, don’t make a rule

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