The power-full people you don’t know about

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As solar panels get cheaper, more people are embracing the sun. Some of them are not only reducing their electricity bills, they’re even selling the surplus to the state. Sunday Timesmeets the new power producers

When money drops onto your roof

Aparajitha Ray
For the past seven months, N K Bhat hasn’t paid a penny to the Mangaluru Electricity Supply Company. “Instead I get paid about Rs 2,000 a month,” says the resident of Puttur in Mangaluru district, gleefully
Bhat installed a five kilowatt solar power generation system in his house in January. It cost him Rs 6 lakh to install and generates about 20 units of electricity every day. He uses 8 to 10 units. “The rest is sold back to the grid. And because of the net metering system, I get paid, and pay nothing for electricity,” he says.
Karnataka’s solar policy, which was revised in 2014, encourages households to generate solar power on their rooftops and sell the surplus energy to the state grid. A person selling solar power from a rooftop system gets Rs 7.08 per unit.
Vijay Dutt, a Bengalurean who renovated his 5,000sqft bungalow five years ago, has cut his electricity bill after installing a solar generating system. He still pays electricity bills but that’s because he also runs a homestay and rents his kitchen out for baking classes. “My intention was to contribute to the grid but I have to do more work to be entirely self-sufficient. However, solar power has reduced my power bills by half. It is only during the monsoon that I draw power from the grid. In summer and winter, I use my own solar energy,” he says.
Across Karnataka, individuals and institutions are looking to the sun and wind for power. Real estate developers are also choosing solar and wind power for new projects. Projects are being planned with solar power generation and consumers are applying for net metering systems so that they can benefit from surplus generation in future
Institutions like St Joseph’s College of Science and Arts, Kempegowda International Airport and Teri and companies like Wipro and Cisco are turning into energy producers as they have huge installations of solar and wind energy systems on their premises.

This Gujarat village is harvesting a sunny crop

 Prashant Rupera
Dhundi is home to the world’s first solar irrigation cooperative, where farmers harness the sun to water their crops and sell the excess to the grid
For years, Raman Parmar, 45, used a diesel pump to irrigate the crops on his 12-bigha farm in Thamna village in Gujarat’s Anand district, spending Rs 500 a day on fuel. In March last year, he installed a solar-powered irrigation pump, and within four months harvested his first ‘crop’, earning Rs 7,500 for the power he sold to the grid.
Inspired by his example, in February this year, six farmers in Dhundi village, about 35km from the milk city of Anand, registered the Dhundi Saur Urja Utpadak Sahakari Mandali (DSUUSM), the world’s first solar irrigation cooperative.
“Within two months, six of us have sold 5,000kWh (kilowatt-hour) of surplus solar energy to Madhya Gujarat Vij Company Limited (MGVCL), the local electricity distributor, after using solar power to run the pumps that irrigate our farms,” says DSUUSM secretary, Pravin Parmar.
International Water Management Institute (IWMI), a non-profit scientific research organisation, has been encouraging farmers to harvest solar power, telling them it is “the most lucrative crop”. Raman has been their most successful story so far and the organisation is using his example to encourage other farmers.
A farmer needs just about 80sqm of land to set up an 8kWh grid-tied solar power generation system. This system allows a farmer to evacuate surplus solar power to the grid at Rs 4.63 per kWh when he is not using the power to run his 7.5HP irrigation pump
“Earlier, when we were dependent on diesel pumps, we used to spend Rs 500 to Rs 700 a day on diesel. Now, there is zero cost to irrigate our farms, water is available for free, and we get an additional income of Rs 200 to Rs 250 per day,” said Pravin.
The current installed capacity of the Dhundi solar cooperative is 56.4kWh and the IWMI team plans to expand it to 100kWh over the next few months.
“We have signed a power purchase agreement to sell up to 100kWh to MGVCL. Soon, we will involve more farmers from our village and strengthen the co-operative to showcase it as a model for the government to replicate elsewhere,” said Pravin, who used to grow only paddy but now raises multiple crops since he is not dependent on the monsoon for water.
IWMI, which works with MGVCL and Gujarat Energy Research and Management Institute, estimates that a solar pump can generate 13,000 units of power a year worth Rs 65,000 on just 1/25th of a hectare. Ten million solar farmers can ‘grow’ 130 billion units of solar power and earn Rs 65,000 crore a year net of input costs.
S B Khyalia, director of Gujarat Urja Vij Nigam Limited, is more realistic. “These farmers are benefitting as 90% of the pilot project is funded by the NGO and farmers save the cost of installing solar panels. But this may not be the case when it is replicated at scale. However, by going solar, we will save the cost of providing electricity to farmers,” said.

This actor has turned producer – of power
B Sreejan
Actor-director Sreenivasan has thus far been known to Mollywood fans for his films; they’ll now also know him as a power generator. Six months ago, Sreenivasan installed a 10 KW solar unit at his home in Kandanad, Kochi. Ranged over 1,500 sqft, the panels were not only designed to meet all his home’s energy needs, but to contribute the excess to the state electricity grid as well. After a 6-month wait for the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) to install a two-way meter to record the units of power flowing into the grid, the actor finally got it up and running last week and is all set to count himself among the state’s power suppliers.
“The new system was fixed only to contribute to the national grid, the quid pro quo being subsidized domestic power,” says Sreenivasan. However, the long wait soured the experience a little. “I can’t say I had a pleasant experience. There was no explanation for the delay,” he complains.
The actor wants to spread the message of alternative energy. “I am not sure if I will be able to generate and sell power every day. But, if I am not at home for a month and not using power, I can sell all the electricity generated (40 units per day) to the KSEB, and the amount earned can subsidize my consumption of KSEB power for other months,” he reasons.
Sreenivasan has a larger vision than cheaper electricity bills. “If we can universalise this system of production, several new proposed hydroelectric projects can be shelved,” he says.
S Shyamkumar, whose company Innovation Experience fitted the solar panels at the actor’s place, says the technology is affordable now even for the middle class. “What we lack is awareness,” he points out. Incidentally, Shyamkumar also installed a similar facility at former Infosys chief Kris Gopalakrishnan’s house in Thiruvananthapuram.

At Sreenivasan’s house, the solar panels are a natural extension of the actor’s efforts to minimize his domestic carbon footprint. His 590-sq-m bungalow has energy-efficient AC VRV units and lighting, low-flow water fixtures, rain-water harvesting, and a highly reflective roof to reduce energy consumption by over 16% of general green homes guidelines.

 What’s net metering: You’re environmentally conscious and have installed solar panels on your roof. But you generate more than you consume. Enter net metering which lets you send extra power to the grid in exchange for banked energy credit or your utility company pays you for that excess energy at the retail rate
 The good news: All states except Manipur, Jharkhand and Telangana allow net metering though some states haven’t implemented it
 The bad news: Since tariffs are kept low through subsidy, you won’t make too much of a profit

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