Delhi offers a new dimension for PV

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Tobias Engelmeier, managing director of market analyst firm Bridge to India, has made a strong case for seizing the full potential solar PV has to offer for a market like India and its capital region Delhi.

Speaking at the recent Renewable Energy India conference, Engelmeier sketched the enormous potential solar power offers for a city like Delhi. Referring to a report Bridge to India prepared for Greenpeace’s campaign "Switch on the Sun" this summer, he showed the scale of the opportunity: "We said that you could install quite easily over the next five years as much as 2 GW of solar power and that would cover just under 20% of Delhi’s power needs at that point in time and would require under 5% of the available rooftop area."

Engelmeier added that "the key message here is that we can start thinking in a different dimension when talking about solar power."

The July 2013 report produced by Greenpeace India, entitled "Rooftop Revolution: Unleashing Delhi’s Solar Potential," is also remarkable in that it advocates no PV subsidies at all to reach the 2 GW goal. A key recommendation of the report is that "the government should not fund solar PV, but instead facilitate it."

This could include the aggregation of government-owned rooftop space to further drive down system costs in this key segment. Government buildings constitute 13% of the available rooftop area in Delhi, more than the 10% represented by commercial rooftop area. The biggest share is residential rooftop, amounting to almost 50%, or potentially 1,243 MW of solar PV.

The fact that residential rooftops tend to be smaller in size drives up the cost of installing solar in this market segment. Installations for residential rooftops tend to be more expensive due to the smaller rooftop surface of residential buildings. Whereas the typical rooftop size for government installations is in the range of 1,000 to 13,000 square meters, residential rooftops are in the range of 200 to 1,000 square meters and therefore lack the economy of scale of the bigger government-related projects. Accordingly, Bridge to India calculates the PV cost per kilowatt-hour in 2013 of a residential system at INR 11.60 ($0.18), over five Rupees more than the INR 6.53 cost of a system on government property.

Given the fact that it is India’s capital city with a total land area of 1,484 square kilometers, and a total built-up area of 700 square kilometers, Delhi offers plenty of government-owned rooftop to start this subsidy-free rollout of solar power. Bridge to India calculates that 119 square kilometers of these 700 square kilometers actually qualify as rooftops capable of supporting PV installations in Delhi.

According to the report, grid parity for PV is already at hand for aggregated government rooftop projects. If the approval process can be streamlined and the Delhi government supports the aggregation process, then the first big step in reaching 20% can be realized immediately.

The fact that solar PV can supply 20% of Delhi’s electricity requirements by 2020 or possibly even 2018, as Engelmeier suggested in Delhi last week, is certainly elevating PV to a whole new level in how various forms of energy are perceived.

According to the Times of India, Delhi now ranks as the second most populous mega-city just behind the Tokyo metro region. Its 22.7 million inhabitants (as of 2011) and the continuing economic growth of Delhi and India (annual GDP growth has averaged 7.7% since 2004, only slightly less than China’s GDP growth over this period) have resulted in increased power demand, which Bridge to India anticipates will go from 20 billion units in 2002 to 33 billion units by 2017, a 65% growth. To tackle this problem without adding considerably to the city’s pollution, solar PV might just be the savior the city needs. Add to that the "homegrown" nature of distributed rooftop PV and the Greenpeace-Bridge to India initiative has a lot going for it. Currently, Delhi relies on other states in India to provide over 70% of its electricity. So this dependence could be narrowed as well.