The solar rooftop backdrop and relevance of solar calculator
India is looking towards a robust solar energy programme that will bolster the energy security of the nation. From a mere 57260 MW at present, India wants to increase its renewable energy capacity to 1,75,000 MW in 5 years’ time. A steep unrealistic target, as has been critiqued by many, considering the progress of the renewable energy programmes in India that span nearly three decades.
The most poorly performing sector in India’s renewable discourse is rooftop solar. With little participation from the grass roots, individuals, and private entities, the rooftop solar like all other solar programmes will remain top driven. So far, 3044 MW solar rooftop systems have been sanctioned all over India, whereas an aggregate of only 506 MW have been installed in residential, industrial, commercial and institutional sectors including government undertakings. The target however is 40,000 MW.
The persistent inability of the governmental agencies in convincing rooftop owners, coupled with poor outreach and closing of the last loop has made solar unattractive for common users.
Even the ministries seem all confused when it comes to delivering a user-friendly roadmap.
The solar calculator app mishmash
A case in point is an app developed this June by the The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), being proudly presented to all members of parliament in a recently concluded science exhibition (28 July – 11 August) at the Parliament Annexe.
The mobile app, Solar Calculator (see picture) has been made to help the user determine the solar potential of a location in case he wants to generate solar energy at that lat/long. The app is intended to provide quick in situ analysis of the solar energy generation capacities of a particular location. It is based on satellite information and is a precise method of data generation in terms of solar insolation.
The app then presents a table, which allows one to check the periodical (monthly / yearly) solar potential in kWh/m2 or mJ/m2 for the location. The app also measures temperature extremes, elevation angles of locations and day lengths over the year (FE Online, 2017). ISRO claims that the solar potential is calculated from data sourced from ISRO’s satellites such as from the INSAT 3D and Kalpana-1. A report for a particular location is exported and is also saved in the form of a PDF file. Available for the Android OS, the app can display data in the form of a table, map or graph (ISRO, 2017).
On the other hand, it is interesting to note that the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Government of India already has in place an online state-wise evaluation system to help users understand the potential that a solar energy unit has. Launched in January, 2017 SPIN as it is acronymed (Solar Photovoltaic Installation) forms part of the process of solar rooftop system installations. Once fed details about the area that a user has at his disposal and to which state he belongs, the SPIN calculates the cost, payback period and more. An Installation Interest Form is also provided to further help the user. Alternatively, the users could scan the QR code appearing on their phone and access a link within the app.
When the G’nY reporter posed the question to both ISRO’s as well as MNRE’s senior officials about whether they were aware of each other’s work, both drew a blank.
Other solar calculators world over
Google has a similar app for calculating solar potential called Project Sunroof. The app utilizes the high resolution mapping used by Google Earth to calculate the solar energy potential of the location. The app has the potential to connect domestic users with local suppliers of solar equipment and power, thus tapping into the individual agency of the domestic user.
Similarly, in Dubai, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), formed out of a merger between Dubai Electricity Company and the Dubai Water Department, has developed a web application called the Shams Dubai Calculator for similar purposes. The difference is in the fact that the app allows users to undertake the production of solar energy under the Shams Dubai Initiative. Under the Shams Dubai Initiative, rooftop electricity is generated in a grid out of which excess power is discharged to DEWA’s grid. The programme has reportedly led to more than 200 houses being connected to the grid in Dubai.
India’s solar calculators with low last mile connectivity
Although the mobile Solar Calculator app developed by ISRO is detailed in terms of GIS data, SPIN’s proximity to the MNRE’s infrastructure currently provides SPIN some benefits. For example, SPIN asks for location specific area information from the user instead of analyzing it only in terms of satellite GIS data in a Solar Calculator. SPIN thus is able to arrive at a tentative cost estimate of the solar power installation that is combined with an online registration process as described earlier. Solar Calculator however, is limited to making an estimate of the total solar power potential for a location in kWh/m2 without any estimate of the costs involved.
This makes SPIN more suitable for medium to small scale installations, and more relevant for the domestic consumer, for whom a major concern is cost and a well-managed budgetary analysis of the prospects of installing solar power.
What is surprising therefore is why the two apps could not be strengthened and promoted under a single platform?
Would it not have been a better idea to integrate ISRO’s accuracy parameters into the already functioning SPIN to give a point based analysis of solar power potential. Also considering that ISRO is a later entrant in the field, and having considerable resources at its disposal – could not have mandated a better and more end-user friendly deliverable, much in the lines of Project Sunroof.
The problem is the policy centric approach of ISRO and MNRE. As is the fall out with most policy driven development, the last mile closure and a surefooted user intervention becomes the last priority. The fact that no solar installation provider list exists in SPIN talks of the poor private-service-provider integration of MNRE.
The apps in question should have had three basic information fields – what is the potential and the tentative cost at level one, who can provide the service at level two, integrated with the banks willing to provide loans for the endeavour at level three. That would ensure the last mile connectivity.
If India indeed is serious about fulfilling its renewable targets, it should look at the individual segment a little more closely, rather than depending solely on internally and externally funded projects and solar parks.