Interview: Mani Khurana

Mani Khurana,
Senior Energy Specialist at World Bank

“Could you please help introduce Energetica India readers to SUPRABHA initiative?”

World Bank has provided a line of credit (US$ 625 million) to State Bank of India to provide concessional loans for the installation of rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV). These solar PV installations will provide clean, renewable energy, and reduce GHG emissions. The project includes a $12.93 million technical assistance component, Sustainable Partnership for Rooftop Solar Acceleration in Bharat (SUPRABHA), through which, the World Bank in cooperation with MNRE, is supporting 17 states to build an ecosystem for sustained rooftop solar market. It includes establishing supportive policy and regulations, creating processes and institutional capacities, and raising consumer awareness on the benefits of rooftop solar.

“What are the objectives of the program?”

A sector-wide targeted approach will help provide the necessary impetus for rooftop solar growth. Uniform rooftop solar policies and regulations across the states will allow the sector to flourish.

Traditional financial institutions are risk-averse and are unwilling to make large lending commitments to solar rooftop as there is no track record of technology performance available for banks to assess risks.

The paucity of institutional capacities—the capacity has to be built in distribution companies, SERCs, and financial institutions about the solar rooftop technology.

Processes for grid connection of the rooftop PV system needs to be more efficient—this includes application forms, procedures, data requirements, and service standards for responding to customer requests.

The stressed financial situation of distribution companies, and

The lack of consumer awareness of costs and technical performance characteristics, rooftop structural requirements, economic benefits, financial options, and contractual O&M options

“How does the SUPRABHA initiative help to answer the rooftop solar challenges?”

The World Bank line of credit to SBI is helping resolve the challenge of the non-availability of concessional financing for the solar rooftop. While SUPRABHA focusses on addressing the other challenges as stated in the previous question, the cornerstone of the SUPRABHA program is the handholding support provided to the agencies in 17 states on implementing the government’s rooftop solar program in cooperation with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. In parallel, the program collaborates with the CERC and other institutes to work on strategic topics.

The activities under Suprabha are structured within the five thematic areas—policy and regulatory, capacity building, raising consumer awareness through media outreach campaigns, process streamlining, and aggregation of demand for rooftop solar.

In the last two years the state nodal agencies were supported on aggregating the demand in government buildings and supporting the bid process management. The program now complements the support of the distribution utilities on promoting rooftop solar in the residential sector. A national-level media outreach campaign has been designed, and state agencies are supported with strategies to implement the same. IT support is provided to the state implementing agency for developing the digital portals for streamlining the rooftop application process. The state governments are supported with the necessary support to update the policy and regulations for facilitating the rooftop solar growth. Lastly, there is a comprehensive capacity building program implemented for bankers, distribution utility officials, project developers, and entrepreneurs.

“What kind of success has this program seen since its inception?”

The program undertook several flagship initiatives and continues to work on several others.

Policy & Regulatory

Updated the model regulation on grid-interactive distributed renewable energy sources in collaboration with the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission and Forum of Regulators. The model regulation reflects the learnings during the initial implementation phase of the rooftop solar program. It supports harmonization of the regulations at the state level by providing clarity on the main parameters, for instance, energy accounting and settlement mechanism, innovative business models, increased hosting capacity, and delinking the project capacity with sanctioned load, among others.

Digital Interventions

Streamlining the rooftop solar application process through unified web portals (UWP). It is a common integrated platform at a state level, for consumers to apply for the rooftop solar system, track the progress of their application, and access subsidies if any. It provides transparency to consumers on the entire process and ensures a hassle-free experience for a consumer to install a rooftop solar system. It is expected that in the next three-four months, all 17 states under the technical assistance program will have these portals operational. Several hundreds of applications have been processed through the operational portals.

Conducing the pre-feasibility assessment rooftop project site and sharing the information through a digital repository. The data is transparently shared with the prospective bidders during the competitive bidding process. The information reduces the transaction cost or consumer acquisition cost for the developers. So far, the Suprabha program has assisted several states in aggregating rooftop solar demand of approximately 320 MW from 4000 potential sites.

Capacity Building

Capacity building and training of key stakeholders. For the rooftop solar sector to grow significantly and sustain, it is imperative to have trained human capital in the key stakeholders, namely the bankers, utility officials, developers, and entrepreneurs. The SUPRABHA program has trained over 1,260 personnel developing the technical skills of rooftop solar system designers and installers, the know-how of utility officials on the interconnection of systems safely to the grid, enhancing project appraisal skills of financial institutions, and increasing private sector participation by developing entrepreneurial skills.

“How does the COVID-19 pandemic impact the growth of rooftop solar?”

The value proposition of rooftop solar is strongly established and is irreversible. The demand for new rooftop solar installation could remain subdued in the short term – in the next two quarters, depending on the impact of COVID-19 on the country’s economy. But I expect the normalcy to return in the medium and long term.

The pandemic affects both the demand and supply side of the rooftop solar value chain.

The cash flows of consumers are disrupted, which might lead to delays in capital investment decisions in rooftop solar. However, it could also be an opportunity for renewable energy service companies (RESCO) to fill the gap, as many businesses would look for options to reduce their operational costs. And rooftop solar could well fit the bill.

The supply-side disruptions, coupled with a weaker currency, may lead to project delays and uncertainty on the project cost due to significant import dependency for solar equipment.

Interview 25/05/2020 by News Bureau
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