How cash-strapped power distributors are short-circuiting the growth of solar energy in India

In a bid to encourage the use of clean energy, the Nagpur Municipal Corporation offers a 5% rebate on property tax to residents who install rooftop solar systems. But the corporation’s own buildings and facilities run up an annual power bill of about Rs 100 crore, show corporation documents we accessed. Its biggest power guzzlers, we found, are water treatment plants, pumping stations and street lights – all of which can be run on rooftop solar power.

In 2018, the city corporation had planned a 42-megawatt peak capacity solar photovoltaic installation to be distributed between its water treatment plants, pumping stations, streetlights, buildings and gardens, said Sunil S Navghare, an engineer at the municipal corporation’s electricity department. But the project has been delayed for almost two years. “We have ironed out almost all issues now and hope this year it will be up and running,” said Navghare.

The apathy towards clean energy is notable because Nagpur enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year and was declared one of India’s 60 solar cities in a move to promote sustainable energy. It also explains why India has been slow in achieving its target for rooftop solar energy even as it pushes for a substantial switch to sustainable energy. Under its Nationally Determined Contributions pledged in 2015 to combat climate change, India has set a target of 175 GW renewable energy by 2022. Of this, as much as 100 GW is to come from solar energy, including 40 GW of rooftop solar.

The government is aware that the rooftop solar sector is nowhere near this target. During the first phase (2015-2020), 2,071 MW was installed against a target of 4,200 MW by January 31, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy told the Lok Sabha in February.

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