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Powering up sunshine - Untapped opportunities in India

July 24, 2020
Jyoti Gulia and Vibhuti Garg
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Key Findings

Consumer awareness of the benefits of rooftop solar is playing a key role in the greater adoption of rooftop solar in India.

The payback period for rooftop solar projects is gradually shortening because the equipment cost is falling. 

Storage will be the next revolution in rooftop solar. Over the next 2-4 years, roughly 20% of all commercial and industrial installations will be grid-connected with battery storage.

Executive Summary

The Government of India has set a target of 40 gigawatts (GW) of rooftop solar capacity to be installed by 2022. As of December 31, 2019, total rooftop solar capacity stood at 5.4GW, well below the installation rate required. Nonetheless, the basic framework including net metering policies for rooftop solar arrays now exists across all states and the implementation of rooftop solar power installations has started in a true sense. Given such momentum, this sector should be a key economic growth priority post the COVID-19 pandemic.

To promote the deployment of solar rooftop capacity, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) implemented in 2015 the “Grid Connected Rooftop and Small Solar Power Plants Programme (Phase I)” under which a subsidy of up to 30% of the benchmark cost was provided for general category states, and up to 70% of the benchmark cost for special category states (the North Eastern States including Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Lakshadweep, Andaman and Nicobar Islands) for installation across the residential, institutional and social sectors.

For government installations, achievement-linked incentives of up to 25% of the benchmark cost in general category states/union territories (UTs) and up to 60% of the benchmark cost for special category states / UTs were also provided. About 2,098 megawatts (MW) of solar rooftop systems have been sanctioned/approved under Phase I.

To achieve the 40GW rooftop target by 2022, the government also introduced the Rooftop Phase II Programme in August 2019. Under this program, additional 

rooftop solar capacity of 18GW was targeted through incentives for distribution companies (discoms) and 4GW was targeted for the residential segment, with central financial assistance of 40% of project cost for a system size of up to 3 kilowatts (kW).

Commercial and Industrial (C&I) users consume approximately 49% of the electricity generated in India and account for 70-80% of all the country’s rooftop solar installations. This situation is quite different from other economies where the residential segment leads rooftop solar. The reason is that, in India, residential and agricultural users are subsidized while C&I consumers are levied an additional cross-subsidy surcharge leading to higher than average mains electricity tariffs. As a result, rooftop solar is an economically viable solution for C&I consumers.

Electricity demand in the C&I segment was rising at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5-6% (FY2017- FY2019) while grid tariffs for C&I consumers are increasing at a year-on-year rate of 1-2%. Increasing electricity demand and rising grid tariffs for C&I customers are driving commercial users to rooftop solar which is not only cleaner and cheaper but also gives them tariff certainty for up to 25 years.

Consumer awareness of the benefits of rooftop solar, its cost savings, and the importance of clean energy are other factors playing key roles in the greater adoption of rooftop solar in India, as is increased awareness of operating expenditure (Opex) business models.

Moreover, the payback period for rooftop solar projects is gradually shortening because the cost of equipment is falling. Currently, in a capital expenditure (Capex) model, payback can be realised by a shorter duration of 3-4 years, while for an Opex project the tariff rate is about Rs3.5-4/kWh (USD 0.047 –0.053), which is less than half the average of C&I grid tariffs prevalent across most states.

The next revolution in rooftop solar will be in storage. It is likely that in the next 2-4 years, 20% of all C&I installations will connected to the grid, coupled with battery storage. Technical advances such as higher generation efficiency from bifacial mono PERC modules, which need less rooftop space, is another advance that will define the future growth of this market.

Furthermore, in the C&I segment itself, medium, small, and micro enterprises (MSME) will be the new market to aggressively adopt solar in coming years. MSMEs are the backbone of the Indian economy, contributing 6.1% of gross domestic product (GDP) and about 45% of total manufacturing output. Electricity costs are 

up to 50% of their total expenses, so cutting such costs via solar power sustainably improves their competitiveness in a big way.

Clearly, there are ample growth opportunities in C&I rooftop solar, but two fundamental issues must be tackled to speed up adoption in this segment. The first is financing because it is still difficult for consumers to get credit approved as lenders do not identify a rooftop solar project as a standalone asset. Second, due to low MSME project capacities, rooftop solar projects are not particularly attractive to banks and financial institutions that cannot aggregate portfolios of rooftop assets.

Policy uncertainty is the biggest issue hampering the growth of rooftop solar in India. Discoms are fearful of losing their high paying C&I consumers and are issuing orders and notifications to restrain net metering and power banking provisions (as listed in Table 4). Additional charges for grid support have also been proposed in India’s key industrial state of Maharashtra. This uncertainty deters many C&I players from deploying rooftop solar.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also created short-term market disruption. Since most solar rooftop developer firms are small businesses, COVID-19 is likely to have a more significant impact on rooftop solar than the utility-scale segment. Given their low financial resilience, small players would struggle to absorb the losses incurred because of COVID lockdowns. We argue that the cost effectiveness, sustainability, and grid benefits of distributed power generation should make rooftop solar a key recipient of post-pandemic stimulus.

As part of this report, we have analysed in detail new market trends that are emerging in the C&I rooftop solar segment, various policy and regulatory developments across states, new technological advances, and the market challenges and drivers influencing the sector. Last, to substantiate some of the recent rooftop solar C&I market trends and opportunities, we have profiled and analysed actual installed projects in six detailed case studies.

Please view full report PDF for references and sources.

Jyoti Gulia

Jyoti Gulia is the Founder of JMK Research. Jyoti has about 15 years of rich experience in the Indian renewable sector. Her core expertise includes policy and regulatory advocacy, assessing market trends, and advising companies on their business strategy. [email protected]

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Vibhuti Garg

Vibhuti Garg is an energy economist and IEEFA Director, South Asia. Vibhuti’s focus is on promoting sustainable development through influencing policy intervention on energy pricing, adoption of new technologies, subsidy reforms, enhancing clean energy access, access to capital and private participation in various areas of the energy sector. 

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