Interview: Utilities Need to Enable Prosumers for Rooftop Solar to Flourish

Rooftop installations in India are well behind utility-scale installations. Only 2 GW of rooftop solar has been installed as of Q1 2018 out of the 40 GW by 2022 target set by the government. To meet the target and the deadline, approximately 9 GW must be installed every year.

Most rooftop installations mostly are happening in the government, commercial, and industrial sectors. The residential rooftop market is almost negligible. This fledgling sector has not yet enjoyed any ground-breaking support or progress in spite of some policy backing from the government of late. There is a lack of viable financing options for residential customers as well.

India’s rooftop solar to utility scale PV ratio is one of the lowest in the world. Approximately 90 percent of solar installations in Australia are in the rooftop sector, whereas China has 40 percent and Germany 30 percent.

In the light of these observations, Mercom’s news team got in touch with Kushagra Nandan, President of SunSource Energy, to discuss the various issues facing the rooftop sector.



Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:

What are the things that need to change for rooftop solar to become more attractive?

India has a massive need for energy. The country added more rooftop solar power capacity in the last financial year than in the previous four years combined.  Here are some things that should be done to make rooftop solar more attractive:

    1. Utilities need to understand that their primary role must switch from buyer and seller of electricity to enablers of prosumers
    2. Independent System Operators must be carved out, based on current SLDC setups, with better interconnectivity between states
    3. ERCs must start operating independently of utilities and should have a majority/strong representation from customers.
    4. Customer representation must be given a regulatory basis.

 What segments of rooftop are lucrative and why?

Large customers have made rooftop solar the fastest growing segment in renewable energy in India. This has happened largely because rooftop solar power is now cheaper than commercial and industrial power in all major Indian states.

Today, most of the growth in the rooftop segment is driven by commercial and industrial users. The economics works for them even without net metering, given the fall in costs of installation and reduction in energy prices. On the other hand, the residential segment hasn’t taken off. The high upfront capital expenditure compared to commercial and industrial (C&I) consumers, a lack of financing options, and cheaper grid electricity for residential consumers with low consumption currently make rooftop PV less attractive for residential consumers than their C&I counterparts. Net metering is important for residential consumers as their panels create a lot of surplus power during the day when the households themselves draw less power.

For the next phase of solar market expansion, residential will be a major driver.

 What states are best for rooftop installations right now?

States that have various industries and large rooftops have a huge potential. Even residential is gradually picking up, particularly in states like Delhi, Haryana, Tamil Nadu among others partially driven by government mandates for promoting solar.

What are some technical challenges you are facing? Ex: flat roof, small roof areas, etc.

In India, the majority of the roofs are small to medium and there is an absence of structural drawings of existing roofs. The major challenge that we face is the structural analysis without existing drawings to ensure that the solar system will not have any adverse impact on a roof’s strength. Since generally no accurate data is available, a lot of time and effort goes into the analysis. Similarly, for the electrical analysis, a lot of due diligence is required to be done.  Also, a lot of time is spent explaining to the authorities including DISCOMs, which makes the procedure time-consuming.