Is Solar Energy for you?

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Ever since the new government has taken charge there has been an increased focus on renewable energy, especially Solar. We spoke to Vikram Dileepan, Founder and CEO of SolarTown Energy, to understand how end consumers can start their solar journey. SolarTown is a leading solar solutions provider which works with corporates and organizations in ‘Solarizing’ their premises.

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  1. What is Solar Power to a layman? The sun is the source of all energy on earth, and solar power is nothing but harnessing the energy of the sun to generate electricity. The sun’s energy reaches us in the form of heat and light. The technical term that is used in the industry is photo-voltaic, which literally translates into energy from light. From a human perspective the sun is an inexhaustible source of energy.
  1. Can solar power be used to run everything in my house or just a few? How much load can it take? How many lights, fans, TVs etc? Solar power can be used to run just about anything and everything. It is not dependent on the type of machinery used but purely on the units that is consumes. For example – in the home solar power can be used to power simple LED bulbs, or heavy duty washing machines, geyser and ovens. You just need to generate enough electricity to run them.

  1. How much of an initial investment does it require to set up a solar power generating unit at home? And what kind of running expense? For a single household with an open rooftop area the initial cost would range between 2 to 2.5 lakhs depending on the quality of the solar plant. What is interesting to note is that this can significantly bring down your electricity bill. In some cases the savings have been as high as 90%. Once installed there is minimal running expense. The only regular expense would be keeping the panels clean and an annual maintenance of the equipment. The cost of which will be about Rs. 2000 to Rs. 2500 per annum.

  2. How much space do I need to set up a solar panel? Can I do it in my balcony if I live in a condominium? Installing a solar plant requires a flat rooftop space. The factors that determine power generation are angle of tilt with respect to the sun, minimal shading area, and maximum hours of exposure to direct sunlight and therefore we do not recommend using your balcony space for setting up a solar plant, as it will not be optimal. 

  3. What kind of savings can one enjoy by switching to Solar energy? A household with an average consumption of 400 – 450 units per month can expect an electricity bill per month of about Rs. 1,600 – Rs. 1,800 (at Rs. 4 per unit). This translates into Rs. 20,000 per year. If the same family starts using Solar power instead, the savings can be as high as Rs. 18,000 per year. There will still be some power that will be consumed from the grid, as you will not be able to go 100% solar – due to a number of reasons, but the consumption from the grid can reduce by as much as 90%. Then there is the possibility of selling excess power that the household is not consuming, which can bring in additional income, thereby reducing the payback period for the panel installation. While the economics may not be that attractive (in pure financial terms) for a single household, a community can achieve much quicker payback periods and generate better returns on the initial investment. It’s best to get your community to set up a solar grid with all residents pooling in for the initial set up.
  4. Can I shift from using regular electricity to Solar energy easily? What would be the hurdle be? Actually there is really no question of shifting. What happens is you merely complement the existing power arrangement and do not replace it fully. The government mandates that you consume at least 10% power from what is generated by the government power grids, so the remaining 90% is what you will be using from a solar power source. This is done in order to maintain the balance of the grid.
  5. Why don’t we see more people use solar plants to generate electricity? If you recall in the early 80’s when automobiles had just been launched into the Indian market, there weren’t many financiers for it, not many service providers, and not much knowledge on where to and what to buy. Similarly in this case while consumers want to adopt this way of generating electricity what’s holding them back are two things mainly; 1) there aren’t many who are willing to put money and back this just as yet, 2) lack of enough service providers in the market. I do however see the market doing a complete 180’ change over the next few years.
  6. We’ve heard that you can sell solar power to others? Is that true and how does it work? Yes, that is correct. Consider a scenario where you are producing 10 units of electricity. For your household you might only be consuming 7 units and thus will be left with an excess of 3 units to dispose off. There are three things that you could do with the excess that is being produced; 1. Let it go waste, 2. Store it for a later time, 3. Feed it to the grid.  With ‘Net Metering’ you can very easily feed it to the grid, and earn money from the electricity you generate.
  7. What is ‘net metering’? The government policy the enables you to become a seller of solar power is referred to as ‘net metering’. Under this, the electricity meter being used has a two way record of not just the units that you consume but also the units that you produce and give to the grid. In addition to the policy there are some infrastructural requirements that enable you to become a producer of electricity. Some States like Karnataka and Haryana have passed notifications on ‘net metering’. 
  8. How do I get started? Besides a level rooftop you need nothing in terms of infrastructure to get started. There are many specialized players in the market who undertake the entire process; from setting up to servicing these plants. All you need to do is find a service provider and get started.
  9. How does one choose the right partner to go solar? It is a free market so all the players are there for you to evaluate and choose from. As a consumer you will have to do your own independent research, rely on reviews and word-of-mouth testimonials from consumers who have opted for the solar plants and have benefited from them. There is really no authority that points to the best or the top in the industry as of now.

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