Solar heaters lag behind in renewable energy push

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In the era of green and renewable energy, it is unfortunate that an environmentally friendly gadget has been given the short shrift. Sales of solar heaters which had been thriving till a few years ago have now come down to single digits. From 20 per cent two years ago, growth has now come down to 9 per cent.This is largely thanks to the withdrawal of subsidies by the ministry of new and renewable energy from October 2014. Till then it was providing 30 per cent subsidy for general states and 60 per cent for north-eastern states, hilly states and union territories. Further, loans carrying two to five per cent interest were provided for buyers in the general states and interest-free loans for the north-eastern states.The offtake is good only in certain states like Karnataka and Maharashtra which have mandated installation of solar water heaters on new building tops, said V Ramnath, managing director, Racold Thermo. “Almost 80 per cent of the water heater sales come from these states,’ he said.According to Mithun Chittilappilly, managing director, V-Guard Industries, the companies were finding the process of applying for subsidy tedious and the receipt used to get delayed by two to three years. “Though the growth has slowed down, the margins have improved as companies do not have to discount the price in the anticipation of subsidy,’ he said.
Even otherwise, certain practical problems have been dogging the solar water heater segment. The heaters made in India do not have the capability of holding hot water for long. The need for hot water is more in places which are deprived of proper sunlight and also during the hours when sunlight is absent. Without proper storing facility, solar water heaters do not serve the purpose.“In the northern states, heating up water during winter is tough,” said Chittilappilly. Many have come up with hybrid models which can be shifted to regular power when sunlight is not there.Moreover, solar water heaters are beneficial for individual house owners or those staying in the top floors of high-rise buildings. Those staying in the lower floors have been showing reluctance to purchase solar water heaters.
However, despite the gloom, the industry seems to be upbeat about future growth. “Solar power is a growing segment and technological innovations are happening in the space quite fast. New models will emerge to address the current concerns in the segment,” said Ramnath. “We are working on smart control solutions for water heaters,’ said Chittilappilly. Entry of new players also is expected to accelerate the growth in the segment.According to Ramnath, the purchase of solar solutions is higher in smaller towns and villages which do not have regular power supply or are facing insufficient supply. Some states like Rajastan, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh are also looking at taking solar power and water heaters mandatory for new buildings. The demand from the institutional segment is also picking up.

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