This guest post has been written in collaboration with Arjun Srihari. Arjun is an economics graduate from St. Xavier’s college Mumbai, Arjun cut his teeth in the corporate world as an associate for Penn Schoen Berland, a research consultancy for communication strategy that advised electoral campaigns & blue chip MNCs. After travelling across the length and breadth of the country to find his next mission, he met Dev Arora at a climate change mitigation conference organized by Al Gore. This led to his role of marketing and strategic alliances at 8 minutes.
What is the approximate cost to install a solar panel for an individual home? Is it advisable to do so at an individual level?
The cost of a solar system is directly proportional to the size of the system so it’s misleading to give an approximate cost. A 3 bedroom house with all the appliances you expect would require a 10-15kW system. A 10kW system costs anything between INR 6-7 lakhs. This does not include the subsidy that is on offer for residential and institutional consumers. Rooftop solar is certainly advisable on an individual level. Assuming that all the factors line up positively, your annual electricity expenditure can be reduced by up to 95% and the ROI is typically between 3-4 years. Since the life of the system is over 30 years, this means you are enjoying the benefit of free electricity for more than 25 years!
How popular is it in Urban India – especially the metros?
It’s becoming increasingly popular in Urban India, particularly in the metros. The cost of electricity expenditure (depending on your consumption of course) as well as the per unit cost is quite high and therefore the quantum of savings via solar is significant. That aside, it is becoming a growing trend to switch to solar and relieve the burden on the grid while also doing your part to reduce your carbon footprint and live sustainably. From a design and aesthetic perspective, we are able to help consumers reclaim unused real estate – most people are not effectively using their terrace space. However, with the help of an elevated structure one is able to use your terrace to generate electricity but keep the terrace space to engage in various activities.
We raise the structure so it becomes like a second roof, and life continues as normal underneath. Not only does solar help reduce the temperature of the rooms directly below the terrace by up to 2 degrees in some cases, but many of our clients have undertaken rooftop gardening or set up a nice sit out arrangement underneath their solar panel structure!
What are the practical advantages over regular electricity in terms of utility?
The major advantage since it is coming from your very own rooftop is that there are no transmission losses. Compared to the utility set up wherein 30% of energy is lost just in transmission from point of generation to distribution. You are paying for those losses in both the fixed cost charge as well as the way the tariff has been decided per unit. Additionally, it is important to note that you are getting the exact same consistency and quality of power as what you can expect from the grid. In the event that you opt for a system that is synchronised with your power back-up, it means that you no longer have to worry about power outages any longer. In the long run, you are also protecting against the rising cost of retail electricity that has even seen spikes by up to 35% in certain states in the past!
How does the weather affect solar power?
This is a common misconception about solar energy. Basic premise is not heat, it’s light. So as long as you can see, you’re system is producing electricity. Heat is helpful in boosting generation, but past a certain point it is counterproductive. The ideal temperature for solar is actually 22-25 degrees celsius. Additionally, any estimation done when calculating the numbers on solar is done on a yearly basis to account for the fluctuations that happen through the year. You know a rooftop solar provider is putting his money where his mouth is when he gives you a generation guarantee that explicitly states that your rooftop solar system will produce ‘X’ many units in a year. Any shortfall, and a rooftop installer worth his salt should commit to pay you back the difference at a predefined rate.
What kind of homes are suitable for solar power?
Only prerequisite is that there should be sufficient rooftop space to accommodate the system capacity that is required and rooftop rights should be with the concerned individual. For a home that wishes to claim a subsidy, then the residential meter must be in the name of the beneficiary or end user’s family.
When can we expect a solar revolution in the residential space in India?
I believe we are witnessing that revolution right now! There has been a major upsurge both in terms of demand and supply when it comes to residential solar. Of course the residential market (from an industry perspective) is perhaps 12-15 months away from being as mature and developed a market as can be seen in the developed world. But the revolution has started and there is plenty of support from the government. A balanced perspective is that the subsidy and tax benefits are merely incentives and we are already seeing them being slowly weaned away. My advice to anyone looking to make the shift is to act with a certain amount of urgency to take advantage of all these incentives and see the payback on your investment as low as 3.5 years! Needless to say, the storage option (going off-grid) is going to the real game-changer. Having said that, I foresee that technology picking up in India in the next year and will be able to retrofit existing systems. Point is, that by that time one would have already recouped half the cost of the system through the energy savings. It’s all about opportunity cost!
What are the prerequisites of a home for them to be able to adopt solar power?
Already mentioned in answer to question 5. Additionally, in order to use solar power doing a power outage, there has to be a form of power back-up in order for us to convert your DC current to AC by taking the reference voltage from said power back-up.
What problem does Solar power solve?
- Clean Energy – there is no place for fossil fuel based energy with respect to mitigating climate change
- Affordability – Affordable power at a significant discount to your current electricity expenditure
- Reliability – whether or not the grid is supplying power, as long as the sun is out you are still able to generate and utilize solar power
- Protection against rising cost of retail power – On average, retail electricity rises at an average of anything between 8-10% per year! Once you’ve recouped your solar investment within 4 years, your electricity is free for the remainder of the lifetime of the system which is in excess of 25 years.
- Distributed renewable energy – as mentioned earlier since it is coming directly from your rooftop there are no losses. Compared to the utility set up wherein 30% of energy is lost just in transmission from point of generation to distribution
- Small ancillary benefit – solar panels on your rooftop decrease the temperature of the rooms below. Less cooling required and therefore further reduction in energy consumption.
What are the prerequisites for adoption of Solar Power by a Housing Society?
Similar to earlier question for an individual. Only rider with a housing society is that they need to have common area space to match their requirement in terms of solar capacity required. We are in discussions with a number of housing societies, cooperatives, condominiums and RWAs to help them switch all of their common maintenance expenses over to solar and thus eliminate what is a significant expense. That money can then be redirected elsewhere for the betterment/development of the colony. Solar has a distinct value proposition for a number of different situations. Most colonies that we speak to are seriously interested in scaling back their diesel generators as it represents a major cost in terms of energy cost as well as maintenance.
What are the components of a full fledged solar panel installation?
Major components of a rooftop solar system are the solar panels and the solar inverter. Apart from that there are a whole host of components that go in to erecting a solar system – lightning arrestor, charge controllers, junction box, cabling, earthing, and all the components that go in to erecting the civil structure on which the panels are mounted and secured. The component list is extensive and the quality/brand of each item is critical in ensuring the lifetime of your system.
Who is an ideal user of solar power and who can make the most of it?
Anyone in India (since we get almost 300 sunny days in a year) that has a rooftop and consumes power is ideal for solar power and can make the most of it. But to answer your question, it is extremely well suited for those who are paying very high rates for their power or those individuals whose consumption is extremely high. It is also a no-brainer for those areas that suffer massive power outages. With the help of a storage solution (battery back-up) the landed cost of a battery backed solar hybrid system is significantly lower than the cost of diesel to power generators etc.
What sort of subsidies does the government provide ?
For a residential or institutional consumer, you qualify for a subsidy from the government which is supposed to be 30% of the total capital cost. In reality, post all the charges and leakages it accounts for anything between 20-22% of capital cost. As a commercial entity, you qualify for a tax benefit. One is able to claim accelerated depreciation on the total system cost amounting to 60% (40+20) in the very first year! If your balance sheet can absorb that kind of benefit, the savings are significant.
If I live in a 2 BHK in a city like Mumbai, what are the prerequisites of my apartment / society building? How long and complex will it take to complete the process from start to finish considering that one would have to pitch the idea to committee members in the society, check feasibility and there are multiple factors and residents involved with different use-cases and variable bills?
The simple answer to this question is that if you live in an apartment complex and do not own the rooftop rights then there is very little you can do at this point to take YOUR home solar. Having said that, there are 2 interesting policies that could address this conundrum – one which already exists but needs to be detailed out further in terms of actual use cases and one policy which is still in the works. Virtual net metering is a possible solution to this problem wherein community solar projects that are being championed in the developed world would be the model to follow. Secondly, and this is more of an educated guess than a confirmed fact, the rent a roof policy that the government is soon to release may have scope to address the issue of those that do not have rooftop space/access/rights but want to make the switch to a clean and renewable source of energy.
But to answer the question as to what is possible – in an earlier question regarding housing societies I’ve addressed how it is possible for a society to go solar by addressing the common area load and in some cases where space is not scarce even address the load of individual homes/residents.
Is there a smaller setup or alternative to doing a full-fledged solar system in my apartment? Assume that I do not have a terrace and stay in one of the lower floors of the apartment and want to adopt solar energy?
The easy answer to this question is that there is very little you can do without rooftop space/rights. However, if you have a balcony then there is a way to possibly offset a portion of your load by opting for a highly innovative way to utilise the space there given the various limitations. Of course this would be highly customized in terms of the engineering and the entire set-up but the great part about solar is that for every challenge there is usually always a complex solution! There was a foreign company (I can’t recall the name of the brand or product) that offered a portable solar set up that could be wheeled in to the balcony and charged a battery which could then be used to power specific devices. With the advent of BIPV, thin film and flexible panels there are ways to create a solar awning of sorts. One caveat – none of these options are optimized in terms of cost, design or functionality yet.
Does solar energy support the running of heavy appliances like an air conditioner?
There is no differentiation in the load that solar can supply. Think of it as 3 power systems running in parallel and in sync. Solar being your primary source of power. If solar accounts for 100% of your load at that point then the other 2 systems don’t come into play. However, if solar is doing 80% of your load or for that matter even 1% of your load, there is no interruption in your power supply, whatever the differential or shortfall is – that comes from the grid. You won’t even know whether your power is coming from solar or the grid , the entire system is running seamlessly (of course we provide a remote monitoring unit so that you can track your solar power generation in real time on any of your connected devices). The system works the same way when there is a power outage in that the differential or shortfall is pulled from the power back up. Short answer to your question is that it is irrelevant what the appliance is, solar supplies energy in accordance with the system capacity and there is never any interruption in terms of power supply. So whether you run 1 AC or 10, the integrated set-up gets the job done!
Can solar power be used with an existing electricity line?
All solar installation in an urban setting (as well as in rural settings where grid power is available) are done with an existing electricity line. As far as setting up your solar system is concerned, it is plug and play. We do not retrofit or rewire anything. We use the existing infrastructure to supply your solar to your home or business. The benefit of this setup is that it negates the need for a storage solution. Through the government’s policy called net-metering the excess energy that is produced is fed back to the grid and you are paid back for it (through a system of solar credits that are reflected in your bill from the discom). The entire process is hassle-free and completely transparent. It means a boost in your savings from your solar system which contributes to a quicker ROI. During the day when most of the residents of the home are out for work, school or whatever the case may be, your solar system is still generating power, Through net metering these units are not wasted but you are able to earn off them, Similarly when you go off for a vacation, all those units of energy being sent back to the grid means that you have a plethora of credits to negate any electricity bill from the discom on your return.
Whom do I call if something goes wrong with my solar panel?Whoever was responsible for the installation is usually always responsible for Operations & Maintenance (O&M) unless an AMC was signed with a third party. Standard procedure should be for you to reach out to the solution provider who installed your system.