IT is something of a puzzle. Maharashtra has abundant sunshine for 250 to 300 days of the year and the average solar irradiance, or solar energy, is up to four to six kWh per square meter. Yet, the State has a low solar power usage. In fact, it ranks eighth in the list of solar energy producing States in the country.
But there is a new optimism following the government’s January 2021 announcement of the Unconventional Energy Generation Policy which aims to implement 17.36 giga watt (GW) of transmission system-connected renewable power projects, including 12.93 GW of solar projects, by 2025. The 12.93 GW of solar projects includes 10 GW of standalone power projects, 2 GW of grid-connected rooftop solar projects, 500 megawatt (MW) of solar-based water supply projects, and 250 MW of solar generation projects for farmers.
The India Solar Project Tracker of Mercom India Research, which researches and consults for India’s clean energy projects, says that Maharashtra has about 1.6 GW of operational solar capacity and projects for generating 1.2 GW are under development. This was as of September 2020. Until a year before that, Maharashtra’s operational capacity was 1.1 GW. By 2022, the State aims to achieve its target of 12 GW.
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How will the State bridge this huge gap in such a short period? The answer lies in the new policy the State government has adopted. In December 2020, the State revised and updated its solar policy to be able to meet its new target. This policy was formally adopted in January. The decision was not sudden. The State has been gradually working towards this. In 2019, it achieved the target set for generating an additional grid-connected solar power capacity of 7,500 MW. Public-private partnership (PPP) has played a significant role, with private players tying up with MAHAGENCO (Maharashtra State Power Generation Company Ltd, the erstwhile Maharashtra State Electricity Board). Of the 7,500 MW, 2,500 MW was in a PPP mode and the rest was tendered to other developers.
The Maharashtra Energy Development Agency (MEDA) has been tasked with implementing the new policy. It has the challenging task of setting up 17,385 MW of renewable power in the State. The proposed megawattage includes 12,930 MW of solar projects, 2,500 MW wind capacity projects, 1,350 MW cogeneration projects, 380 MW small hydro, 200 MW solid waste and 25 MW from new technology-based renewables. All this is aimed at the State achieving its target of 40 per cent electricity generation through renewable resources by 2030.
The State intends to provide solar power connections to 10,000 houses annually and to reduce power outages. In fact, one of the aims of the policy is to address power outage issues and tackle pollution caused by the State’s high industrialisation and urbanisation. Agriculture is expected to see a fair share of solar power, and one of the admirable plans is to provide 100,000 solar-powered agricultural pumpsets every year to farmers for the next five years. The State’s policy has included the rural electrification programme and microgrid projects. This is seen as a good move because it will provide power to remote areas that are not touched by the grids. Equipment such as solar agricultural pumpsets and solar pumping stations will help the farming communities, especially those located in remote regions.
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In terms of money, it means the State will implement Rs.780 million worth of transmission-free renewable projects annually. Apart from the 100,000 agricultural pumpsets, there will be 52,000 kV of rooftop solar systems, and 2,000 solar water supply stations. In all, 10,000 rural homes will be electrified, 800 solar cold-storage projects will be initiated, and 55,000 square feet of solar water or solar cooking systems will be installed all over the State. There is a proposed investment of between Rs.850 billion and Rs.1 trillion to help create jobs in this field. It also provides an opportunity for entrepreneurial ventures to manufacture solar pumps, solar-powered cooking systems, solar-powered cold storage and other off-grid products.
Residential rooftop solar plants
One major target area is rooftop solar-powered plants known as RTS. The Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy Resources is looking at an all-India generation of 38,000 MW of power through these rooftop plants that are essentially a collection of solar panels. The deadline is end 2022. The Union Ministry has made Maharashtra the pioneer State in setting up the highest number of RTS in the residential sector. This comes under the centrally-sponsored Off Grid Rooftop Solar Programme.
Maharshtra has been allocated 2 GW for residential RTS. The RTS plan is to be carried out by the State-owned distribution companies or discoms. To encourage housing societies and standalone residential properties to install the RTS, the Centre has devised a scheme in which those who opt for it are eligible for 20 to 40 per cent of the setting up costs. Once it is up and running, the owner can either consume all the electricity produced or can feed it into the local grid in which case it will be set off against their power consumption bill. Industry watchers feel the RTS will be met with enthusiasm and the target should be upped to 5 GW. According to Mercom’s India Solar Project Tracker, Maharashtra ranked fourth in RTS installations in India, and as of the first quarter of 2020, this represented 9 per cent of the total installed capacity.
The solar power industry is charged about the State government’s targets but, of course, there are knots that need to be untangled. There are concerns about payment discipline from the discoms, issues about transmission, a need to discuss hybrid policy, open access, rooftop solar as well as the need to phase out old unproductive plants.
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At an interactive session organised by the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) with the chief executive officers of renewable energy and power companies on January 28, Nitin Raut, the State’s Power and New and Renewable Energy Minister, said Maharashtra’s New Renewable Energy Policy would attract Rs.75,000-crore investments. Raut affirmed that the policy aimed at implementing 17,000 MW of renewable power projects in the next five years. It is expected to create direct and indirect employment for one lakh people, along with giving priority to hybrid power projects. In a FICC statement, Raut said: “In line with the Paris Agreement, the Government of Maharashtra is committed to achieving 40 per cent electricity generation from renewable energy sources by 2030.”
If the policy achieves its aim, then Maharashtra is surely headed for its place in the sun.