* As energy demand grows, rooftop solar seen as clean and cheap * But many city residents struggle to install systems at home
* Start-ups offer virtual solar investment with green power credits By Anuradha Nagaraj
CHENNAI, India, March 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Suraj Vallamkonda, 29, bought a new electric scooter as a step towards reducing his carbon footprint and tackling climate change. But when he plugged it in to recharge, he realised he was using fossil fuels to power his scooter, not green energy. One solution, he knew, would be to install solar panels on his rooftop.
But his home terrace, with its thriving herb garden, did not have enough space for panels, so he decided to invest instead in “solar biscuits”, or portions of panels in an existing system. Vallamkonda tapped into solar power produced miles away via a start-up business that helps meet individuals’ clean energy needs at home with power produced by solar panels mounted on big malls, schools and other sites across India.
The Bengaluru resident invested in solar panels virtually, earning him credits that offset his electricity bill at home. Start-ups like SundayGrids https://www.sundaygrids.com are making rooftop solar power accessible to urban Indians like Vallamkonda and boosting India’s ambitious renewable energy programme, which aims to move the nation away from its reliance on fossil fuels like coal.
“The idea for the start-up came from the fact that most of us did not have access to a rooftop,” said young entrepreneur Mathew Samuel, 24, co-founder of SundayGrids. “We were mostly living in rented apartments, often moving cities – and as an individual, the economics of it and how to install (panels) were also a challenge. But we wanted our say in climate action, like so many other people do.”
Rooftop solar is seen as a cost-effective, efficient and easy-to-implement way to meet India’s rising energy demands. More than 700 million Indians have gained access to electricity since 2000, with about 97% of the population now connected to on- or off-grid power, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
An expanding economy, growing population, urbanisation and industrialisation mean India will see the largest increase in energy demand of any country in the next two decades, according to an IEA report on the country’s 2021 energy outlook. At present, 40% of India’s installed electricity capacity comes from renewable sources like solar, wind and hydro.
But, according to India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, only 5.7 gigawatts (GW) of solar rooftop projects https://news.trust.org/item/20210303035736-wa25k had been set up by last November – just a fraction of the 40-GW rooftop solar target for the end of 2022. That points to major scope to expand rooftop solar fast.
“(It) will be a consumer utility in 10 or 15 years, just like a fridge or washing machine,” said Martin Scherfler, co-founder of Auroville Consulting, who works on power-sector reforms. “Right now, however, it is a very bumpy …….