Before Govindan Satheeshan installed solar panels on the roof of his house in Kerala state, southern India, as part of a government program two years ago, the 70-year-old retiree was not sure.
Would the panels produce enough electricity? Would they be too expensive? Is the system suffering from technical problems?
But his hefty electricity bills, going up to 15,000 rupees ($ 205) every two months, motivated him to sign up. Today, his bills have dropped close to zero.
Satheeshan is so pleased with the results that he invited anyone uncertain about installing a solar home system to visit him in Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital.
“People still doubt the feasibility of rooftop solar panels. If anyone is interested but skeptical, they are welcome to stay with me and I will clarify (the benefits), ”he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Kerala now hopes to convince more residents to make the switch, launching a new solar roofing program in January aimed at reducing carbon emissions and reducing the state’s dependence on imported energy.
The Soura (Sun) project aims to install solar panels on 75,000 homes, which will supply 350 megawatts (MW) of electricity to the state grid.
Combined with the 20,000 homes that had already installed solar panels as part of an earlier initiative, the new Soura project will help Kerala meet about 10% of its electricity needs through solar power, according to KSEB, the office. of state electricity.
Despite Kerala’s solar innovations – from the world’s first solar airport to India’s largest floating solar power plant – the state has fallen behind in much of the country in appropriating the renewable energy source.
Kerala ranks middle out of India’s 28 states in terms of installed solar capacity, according to data from the country’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE).
Soura is offering a grant to encourage residents to sign up for the project and dispel the common belief that solar panels are only for the rich, said A Nasarudeen, a KSEB project manager.
“We have streamlined this project, making sure that ordinary people benefit from it. Their homes will be mini solar power plants. By exploring solar energy, they can be self-sufficient in their electricity needs, ”he said in an interview.
Any excess electricity generated by the roofing systems can be sold back to KSEB at a rate of 3 rupees ($ 0.041) per kilowatt hour.
The project is part of the state’s plan to generate 1,000 MW – about a quarter of its electricity needs – from the sun by 2022.
Figures from the KSEB show that around 30% of the electricity used by Kerala is generated within the state, with the remainder coming from other states or from the national grid at a cost of around Rs 80 billion (around 1 , $ 1 billion) per year.
With over 33 million inhabitants according to the latest census, Kerala is the third most densely populated state in India, leaving little land available to build large solar arrays, said Aneesh S Prasad of the government agency. for research and technology on new and renewable energies.
The government is therefore looking to the rooftops of residents to tap into the sun’s energy, the state’s program official said.
CT Ajith Kumar, an energy expert at the Integrated Center for Rural Technology, a research and development institution in Kerala, said the state’s focus on solar power made both economic and environmental sense.
“To reduce carbon emissions, Kerala has no other option than solar power,” he said.
“We cannot cut down trees or destroy forests in order to build new hydroelectric plants. Thermal power plants would generate more emissions. But solar energy is absolutely pollution-free. We have to explore it. “
In addition to the estimated 15 billion rupees (approximately $ 206 million), the Soura project will cost – paid for by the MNRE, KSEB and the solar panel producers who sign up – an additional 5 billion rupees (approximately $ 69 million ) will go to a subroutine. aimed at low-income consumers.
Eligible people will need to pay just 12% of the cost of installing their solar panels, KSEB’s Nasarudeen said.
Homeowners can use 25% of the electricity they produce, with the rest going to the grid, he explained.
Even if it overcomes the affordability problem, the project faces other challenges, said Jacob Varghese, 65, a resident of Ambalamukku, who had installed solar panels as part of the previous roof system.
He and other residents he knows have had to wait a long time to get KSEB approval, visiting its offices on several occasions.
“Then after I installed the solar panels, getting the grant was the next amazing effort,” he said.
“As a businessman, I had the patience and the financial knowledge to deal with the initial hiccups. But could ordinary people cope with it? He asked.
Nasarudeen said the KSEB is confident it can tackle these issues.
By involving more installation companies, the government plans to reduce the waiting time for residents to a maximum of seven days and to charge subsidies from the start of installation, he noted.
Swapna Ebi Varkey, a 48-year-old housewife from Thiruvananthapuram who installed solar panels on her roof a few years ago, said she wanted the government to be successful in its quest to make Kerala houses run in the sun. .
“Suppose every house in Kerala is turned into a mini solar power plant on the roof. Then we could easily make the state clean and green, ”she said.