The Discom Love For EV charging Versus Rooftop Solar Illustrates The Challenge For Solar

The Discom Love For EV charging Versus Rooftop Solar Illustrates The Challenge For Solar Electrify America to set up project for charging EVs with solar power

As the world moves well into 2022, possibly one of the hottest years in a lifetime for most people on the planet, it is an important time for introspection here in India.

Introspection is needed on just why and how we missed our renewable energy targets, especially those pertaining to solar power. After all, 2022 end was the first key deadline for the country, set way back in 2014-15, to reach 175 GW of renewable energy capacity (with no large capacity hydro being counted in the number). The 175 GW figure of RE was broken down into Solar (100 GW), Wind (60 GW), Biomass (10 GW) and Small hydro (5 GW). Solar, the subject of this article, was further divided into 60 GW of utility scale solar and 40 GW of rooftop solar. It is clear now that these targets will be missed comprehensively, thanks to large misses on both the solar and wind fronts.

With respect to Solar — the largest contributor to the target — what we have reached today is anything between 55 to 56 GW of solar capacity, made up primarily of utility scale solar totaling 48 GW, rooftop solar worth about 7 GW, and some distributed solar capacity. With a pipeline of close to 12 GW to be completed this year, the final numbers, when they come in, will show that the huge miss can be attributed almost completely to rooftop solar. And therein lies the rub of our challenge: state discoms.

The discoms can be described variously as financially stressed, inept, unprepared and even corrupt when it comes to the way they have handled rooftop solar. Indeed, look no further than their approach to another key focus area — EV charging — to understand the matter of their motivations. You will find that discom after discom has rolled out the red carpet (by their admittedly shoddy standards) to ‘support’ EV charging networks for only one chief purpose — to increase the consumption of power in their circles — with next to no thought on where that power will come from. To put it more bluntly, until things really change, increasing power consumption will always trump sourcing cleaner power, as far as our discoms are concerned.

Two things that we have never ceased highlighting at Saur Energy comprise the likelihood of the government missing targets and the importance of linking some renewable energy capacity exclusively to EV charging. While the former was obvious as far back as 2019, the latter is no leap of logic as grids powered by 70% fossil-powered energy will achieve limited progress in powering up an EV transition. We will simply be transferring city pollution to the power plants burning coal to keep the power lines going. Look no further than the discoms in affluent Delhi, which are virtually competing with each other when it comes to easing the establishment of an EV charging network. However, the same state has one of the poorest records on achieving its solar targets, achieving barely 10% of targets or generating its own energy, sourcing ever higher shares from states outside at high cost to itself and the environment. The reason is quite simple: financial incentives. Discoms currently have zero incentive to add solar power, especially rooftop solar, seeing it as a drain of their ‘better’ paying consumers. The same discoms love EV charging stations that offer better than cost of power purchase realisations on power consumption.

There is a clear need to think about matching poorly performing but well funded schemes like PM-KUSUM’s Component A with the need for clean power for the EV sector. Starting at national highways could be a good start.

Another issue has been the government’s obsession with large scale solar (utility) over almost everything else. It is understandable, considering the lesser effort involved relatively, as compared to getting states on board for rooftop solar, or even uniform and progressive open access norms to enable more corporate participation. While that obsession has delivered, it has papered over too many misses, from rooftop solar, to distributed solar (including better use of solar appliances for instance) to the corporate PPA market.

Instead of fixing those, we have seen, at various times, efforts to muddy the numbers by including large hydro for instance, that has helped the government to claim that the 175 GW target will be met, or even claim that we will actually exceed it.

It’s time to stop beating around the numbers. Today, there is zero doubt that given the right policy and incentives, the country has built up a healthy capability to deliver on a massive solar push, be it for utility solar, rooftop or distributed solar. Dropping storage costs could well lubricate the push to 500 GW and beyond, if we start valuing the numbers not just for meeting consumption and financial targets but also for the vital role they could play in the global climate effort. Over 80% of the renewable capacity created in the past 3 years has been done at a cost lower than fossil fuel generated energy, thanks mainly to lower costs of solar. Almost 100% of the renewable capacity that will be created from here on could be at a cost lower than fossil fuels. If nothing else, that should be the signal to go all out on the renewable energy front. If that doesn’t make us approach this with a fresh resolve to find solutions and remove obstacles, nothing will.

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Prasanna Singh

Prasanna has been a media professional for over 20 years. He is the Group Editor of Saur Energy International