How uniform net-metering regulations will help the distributed solar PV market accelerate

There are currently nine states (Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Karnataka, Kerala, Delhi and Punjab) that have announced net-metering policies in India. These policies are aimed at encouraging the adoption of distributed solar PV generation in the country. A careful examination of the policies, indicate that the technical pre-requisites of the solar system components in each of these policies vary significantly and are in some case, not aligned to the central guidelines on distributed generation tabulated by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA). Should there be uniformity in distributed regulations?

  • Most states in India that have announced net-metering policies have not adhered to the CEA regulations of distributed solar generation. These discrepancies can hinder the overall solar market in India.
  • There is a large variation is metering regulations. Andhra Pradesh for instance has very stringent metering requirements that can push meter costs to well over 15% of overall systems costs.
  • Grid penetration limits are yet another important requirement that is completely missing from the CEA as well as many other states (ex: Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, etc.). Among the states that have announced limits (Example: Delhi), they need to be reviewed and perhaps upgraded to allow for greater deployment of solar

 A recently concluded collaborative research project between BRIDGE TO INDIA, the National Center for Photovoltaic Research and Education (NCPRE) based in I.I.T. Bombay, Prayas Energy Group and the University of California, Berkeley suggests that uniformity in regulations can go a long way in boosting the distributed solar market in India. Download the report here.

 In addition, the aim of this research project was to understand if the Indian grid is prepared for the impending distributed energy boom. If yes, then what are the ‘safe’ levels of PV that might be injected on to the grid without any major changes in the grid. If no, then what are the specific grid upgrades that might be required. The study also looked at safety procedures in installing and operating these distributed solar systems. The study also examined the current regulations on distributed generation stipulated by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) and compared them with international standards.

 There are three main differences between various state solar policies.

  1. Metering requirements. The CEA has already announced metering requirements for solar PV generation under the regulations titled, ‘Installation and Operation of Meters, 2006’. However not all states adhere to these regulations. Take Andhra Pradesh for example. The state mandates a meter class accuracy of 0.2. The cost of such a meter ranges between INR 25,000 to 35,000. For a consumer who wants to set up a 2kW system battery-less system that costs approximately INR 250,000, the meter would add another 10-15% to the overall costs. This can serve as a discouragement to consumers.
  2. Maximum PV penetration levels. This is one of the most important pre-requisites to any distributed solar policy. Not many utilities currently understand the effect of having several generating sources at the tail-end of the grid. Yet, many states such as Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand do not specify any limits. Although the policy might have targets that would serve as limits to the overall program, limits on the distribution transformer are absent. There are two recommendations from the report A) The CEA come out with a maximum penetration regulation and B) Utilities adopt a “learn-as-you-go” approach to approve connections at every distribution transformer.
  3. Electrical parameters. There are several critical electrical parameters such as voltage range, frequency range, flicker and harmonics that need to be observed in order to ensure that the grid integration of the solar PV system ensues smoothly. However, our research concludes, that many states completely missed outlining these critical parameters. Nor, have many states referred to CEAs flagship regulation (download here).

 The effect of non-uniformity can serve to slow down the growth of the distributed (often rooftop) solar PV market in India. Manufacturers of meters for instance, have to cater to different regulations in different states. This can quickly escalate costs and remove any cost reductions that might have resulted in efficiencies of scale. System integrators also would have their task cut out. Most integrators (or EPC) are national players. Their training costs would quickly escalate thanks to the diverse regulations. In short, having uniform regulations helps the entire solar PV market, from regulators to consumers.

 Akhilesh Magal is a Consultant at BRIDGE TO INDIA

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