Though inflated electricity bills for June came as a shock for most city consumers, those who use rooftop solar power have had net-zero electricity bills over the past three months. A net-zero electricity bill means the consumer has to pay only basic charges or metre cost to the electricity distributor.
KG Mittal College of Arts and Commerce in Malad, Maharashtra College of Arts, Science and Commerce (MCASC) in Nagpada, two residential bungalows in Versova, and the Noorani Masjid in Pathanwadi all shared with HT copies of their net zero bills for April, May and June. All these buildings have managed their power consumption through rooftop solar projects, which have provided the consumers with a free source of renewable energy that does not cause pollution and instead reduces carbon emissions.
‚ÄúAfter our installation last year, we have reduced 21.1 tons of carbon emissions in environmental benefits while saving 9,500 units of electricity using solar power. That amounts to Rs 45,000 surplus, which is adjusted against our monthly bills. This was a major reason for a net zero bill,‚ÄĚ said Dr SB Arya, director, KG Mittal College, which has a 45 kilowatt-power (kWp) project with 71 panels.
Dr. Siraj Chougle, principal, MCASC said, ‚ÄúInitial cost to set up solar may be high but once installed, their lifespan is 25 years. Basic installation cost can be recovered within five years and the remaining benefits, including being cost-effective and environmentally beneficial, serves for at least 20 years.‚ÄĚ With an 84.5 kWp project with 250 solar panels across 2,000 sq. foot rooftop area, MCASC estimates savings of 56 tons of CO2 annually.
Projects at residential duplex bungalows at Yari Road were much smaller (8.5 kWp and 4.2 kWp). Prior to installing solar panels, the electricity bills were very high, said residents. ‚ÄúIt is unimaginable that we are paying almost nothing against summer bills of Rs. 15,000 per month prior to installation,‚ÄĚ said Alok Khandelwal, a resident.
The centrally-airconditioned Noorani Masjid with its 60 ton AC units has a 25 kWp solar power plant made up of 72 panels, which caters to the common areas that see 5,000 devotees per day. ‚ÄúUnits saved during summer will ensure bills remain net zero even during monsoon,‚ÄĚ said Rashim Gulam Rasul Maredia, chairman of the trust that runs the mosque.
In June, citizens reported sharp increases in their electricity bills, with some being charged almost three times the monthly average. The lockdown imposed at the end of March led to Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission directing electricity distributors to suspend meter readings and charge consumers based on average readings for the winter months (December, January and February) in April and May. However, actual electricity consumption was higher and the adjusted amounts for April and May combined with actual meter readings, resulted in higher bills.
Solar power distributors said awareness was key to enhancing Mumbai‚Äôs rooftop solar capacity. ‚ÄúCitizens are opting for the zero-energy model. However, there is a need for more awareness to understand environmental benefits for shifting from burning coal, gas and oil for electricity generation,‚ÄĚ said Rizwan Chunawala, head of department (business development), MSS Renewtech, a solar energy company.
Experts said rooftop solar projects were gaining popularity but Mumbai has tapped less than 5% of its potential. ‚ÄúThe city can scale such projects to achieve a 1,000 megawatt (MW) rooftop solar target against its present capacity of 45-50 MW. The state needs to come up with its own policy to promote enhanced solar use, and convince citizens through incentives,‚ÄĚ said SP Gon Chaudhuri, energy expert and chairman, International Solar Innovation Council. ‚ÄúCost of such projects is expected to rise since trade relations with China have taken a hit. This, however, means more opportunity for India to develop its own equipment but at a slightly increased cost for end consumers,‚ÄĚ said Chaudhuri.
Prashant Badgeri, deputy secretary (renewable energy) in the Maharashtra government said, following the Centre‚Äôs announcement of a revised rooftop solar scheme, both private and government electricity distributors can scale such projects in their jurisdiction. ‚ÄúThis will bridge the gap for citizens to approach multiple agencies for installations, and also acts an incentive for distributors to garner Centre‚Äôs subsidies,‚ÄĚ said Badgeri admitting that Maharashtra was lagging behind Gujarat in terms of solar capacity and projects. ‚ÄúAwareness can come from understanding the viability of each project. For Mumbai, the feasibility of having enough rooftop space is a concern, and it is essential citizens study requirements before adopting such projects,‚ÄĚ he said.