Rooftop solar and the case of Bengaluru-II

Sapna Gopal

As per news reports dated December 10th, 2022, it was reported that Bangalore Electricity Supply Company Limited (BESCOM) had begun implementing the grid-connected Rooftop Solar Scheme (Phase- II) and had received 1,500 applications seeking installation of such solar panels. It was also mentioned that the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) had allocated 10 mega-watt capacity to BESCOM.

“Under this scheme, MNRE is providing a 40% subsidy for the first 3 kW and a 20% subsidy beyond 3 kW and up to 10 kW. The scheme is being implemented in the States by local Electricity Distribution Companies (DISCOMs). The solar panels and other equipment are to be installed by the empanelled vendors as per the standard and specifications issued by the MNRE. The empanelled vendors should do a 5-year maintenance of the rooftop solar plant”, an official release from the MNRE had said.

However, official sources in the city of Bengaluru feel the scheme has been relegated to paper and nothing is being done as far as implementation is concerned.  

A senior official in the Karnataka Renewable Energy Association (KREA), an organization that promotes innovative technology in solar and addresses issues that come up in the industry, said, “It is on the implementation side that there are several hurdles. Even though announcements are made by the respective governing body, the bureaucracy which is actually supposed to implement the policy is where the problem lies---it just gets stuck.”

The Group Captive Rooftop Scheme (GCRT II) was announced by the MNRE, wherein the individuals are allowed to put up their own power generating plants on their roof and central financial assistance of 40% up to 3KW and 20% beyond 3KW—up to 10 KW is permitted, the government had mentioned that a tender should be called, to determine the rate, so that the subsidy outflow is either based on that or a benchmark of the amount that they had announced already---whichever is lower.

Accordingly, in Bengaluru, an announcement was made by BESCOM for empanelment of vendors and then the applications were invited. “They started looking for vendors, with a number of impediments. Firstly, they called for a very high EMD, then for an experience criteria that was also very high. Moreover, there was no scope for Medium and Small and Medium Enterprise (MSMEs) and the terms of payment were very rigid---wherein the cash flow would get blocked. So, members of the Karnataka RE Association went to the court, got the first tender dropped and after that BESCOM diluted it a bit here and there, but the terms of payment were almost the same. Hence, the core part of the industry did not participate---in the subsequent 4 tenders, from 2019 to 2022---four tenders were a failure,” the official who did not want to be named, revealed.     

As a result, whatever time frame the MNRE had set for an initial 300MW of rooftop solar for Bengaluru, expired and they (BESCOM) could not get a reallocation---after a lot of lobbying from the Karnataka government and the ministers taking up the issue, BESCOM got back 50MW—even this they could not complete within the stipulated time frame. Now, they have just 10MW and even then, not a single installation has been completed on the rooftop, under the subsidy scheme (Central Financial Assistance Scheme), the source lamented. 

Meanwhile, the Centre introduced the Basic Customs Duty (an increase of 40%) and the GST rates went up from 5% to 12%. With all this, the discovered rates cannot be met with now. There are so many impediments because of the delays in implementing. So, this is where it has come to. The sad part is that the industry is suffering---because there are so many gaps in the technical understanding of the Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC) order by BESCOM as well as their own internal inefficiency in updating the field staff. One is on the capacity side, on the synchronization method and the other one is on the billing---at every stage there is a problem. Also, as usual, officials at the helm of the affairs at BESCOM keep changing---in the last 4 years, three managing directors have changed. Each MD has his own perspective on the scheme. In fact, one of the MDs went to the extent of saying why a certain measure should be adopted, when that would mean there is going to be more outflow of money from BESCOM. Therefore, the negative approach has not helped the case of rooftop solar in Bengaluru”, sources in KREA added.

According to a senior official in KREA, who also did not want to be named, one of the main issues that needs to be addressed is the empanelment of vendors for inverters, which is one of the components in the solar eco-system. “While MNRE has clearly said that BIS or IEC approved inverters should be allowed for net metering, in BESCOM, they want to have one more layer of accreditation, which makes no sense because they are not going to supersede anything beyond BIS. The validity of the certification is given for 3 months to 6 months---by the time they come to the market, it takes 3 months. Even though quality products are available, under the Net Metering Scheme of BESCOM, developers cannot use them. Whoever has the muscle/money power, they get it certified by bribing them and they sell sub-standard products. There are other issues as well and we are tired of addressing them with BESCOM”, he told this reporter.

In a meeting that was held on January 4, 2023, in Bengaluru, members of the KREA met with officials of BESCOM and submitted a list of their suggestions, to improve the state of solar rooftop in the city. This draft was shared with this reporter. The suggestions included:

  1. Parallel Scheme of Soura Gruha Yojane-Programme: BESCOM can practice only one scheme of DBT to support the industry for a constructive implementation of the mission. Other schemes that run on a parallel basis must be dropped to pave way for smooth and successful implementation of the scheme.
  2. Inverter Empanelment: BESCOM must encourage the SGY by recognizing BIS Registered Inverter Models use in SRTPV Plants and by dropping off the Present Solar Inverter Empanelment Process.
  3. Concerns of application approval related/meter related/billing process related: BESCOM can implement our recommendation as per the detailed concerns in the respective area.

Meanwhile, several efforts to reach a senior official of BESCOM proved futile this time around as well. It may be recalled that in the issue dated December 21st, 2022 of this newsletter, it was reported how the city of Bengaluru, was unsuccessful as far as solar rooftop was concerned.
Private developers had mentioned the issues they had with (BESCOM), which they alleged, was not at all supportive. Even then, the official from BESCOM had not responded to calls or queries over email.