Interview with Varsha Joshi

“Delhi has done pioneering work in the WtE segment”

A water body surrounded by lush green trees, criss-crossing transmission lines, a metro station and a fleet of auto-rickshaws make for a beautiful view from the eighth floor of the Delhi Secretariat, which also happens to be the office of Varsha Joshi. The view was apt for the conversation that the Renewable Watch team had with the secretary of power and transport, Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi. Excerpts from the discussion…

What is the current scenario of power demand in Delhi?

The power demand touched an all-time high this year at over 7,000 MW. Just three years back the peak demand was 6,500 MW. We see that the demand has been steadily increasing. This peak comes in summer either at around 3.30 pm or at midnight. So there is a possibility to use solar energy to flatten this peak. On the other hand, the demand drastically comes down in winters. In the early hours of the day, the peak demand sometimes comes down to as low as 1,300 MW. There are few states in India that have to face the kind of demand range that we deal with.

What are the future power demand estimates for Delhi?

According to projections, the demand in Delhi will continue to rise unless drastic steps are taken on the energy efficiency front. According to various studies, the demand for air conditioners (ACs) will continue to rise, which will put a pressure on the grid. We are planning to tweak the additional load on the grid by working on energy efficiency for ACs and fans.

What is the status of RPO compliance in Delhi?

For the renewable purchase obligation (RPO) target of 2022, we have already signed power purchase agreements (PPAs) to buy 400 MW of wind energy. PPAs to buy 675 MW of solar energy have also been planned. Of this, the majority have been signed. Further, we purchase power from three waste-to-energy (WtE) plants situated in Delhi.

The substantial improvement in the financial health of discoms has helped us achieve this feat. However, discoms still face some financial constraints. In future, discoms can also purchase renewable energy certificates to meet their targets.

What is the on-ground status of the rooftop solar segment in Delhi?

In June, Delhi’s rooftop solar plant capacity crossed 100 MW. Installations have been rising steadily, but the majority of the projects have come up on government buildings. The Central Public Works Department and Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) have done a lot of work in this space. The Delhi government has planned to float tenders for 30 MW of capacity to be installed on government buildings.

As the rooftop of one house cannot produce a lot of power, we are now focusing on resident welfare associations (RWAs) with multiple group housing societies. These societies have some free space that can be used to harness solar energy. Our approach has garnered a good response and more than 10 societies have already installed rooftop solar projects.

Going forward, increasing the distribution transformer capacity will be key for integrating rooftop solar with the grid. However, the setting up of new transformers will take a hit due to land constraints. Moreover, even after getting the necessary infrastructure in place, it is hard to persuade people to install rooftop solar.

What are the incentives that the state provides to households and developers in the rooftop solar space?

The Delhi government has been providing a generation-based incentive of Rs 2 per unit for the past three years and has now decided to extend this incentive for the next five years. Besides, we also have a payment security mechanism in place. Under this, if a household fails to pay the bills, the subsidy given to it will be automatically credited to the renewable energy service company (RESCO).

The subsidies that we provide make economic sense as Delhi is one of the few states in the country to have a surplus budget. We are already giving a subsidy of Rs 160 billion per annum on electricity bills.

What is the status of WtE plants in Delhi?

Delhi has done pioneering work in the WtE segment. The work on this segment started 10 years back and we now have three WtE plants. The plant at Okhla dodged some legal issues initially but now works at full capacity. The plant at Ghazipur has had some technical issues, which are being solved. The third plant is at Narela-Bawana. Experts from IIT Delhi have been roped in to advise the government on this segment.

The waste segregation at house level will take its own time and the state cannot wait till it happens. We have already deployed systems for separating malba (debris) and construction and demolition (C&D) waste before it goes for incineration in the plant. We have two C&D recycling plants. One is at Shastri Park and the other is in Burari. Both these plants are running at full capacity.

Delhi also has a plan to become a zero dump city. The waste generated in the capital city will either be incinerated or will go to the C&D plant. For this, we have planned to set up WtE plants at Tekhand and Bhalswa with a capacity of 25 MW and 15 MW respectively. Alongside, the public works department (PWD) has been directed to build a C&D plant. With these initiatives, the combined capacity of WtE plants will reach 100 MW in the city.

What is your view on the future of electric vehicles (EVs) in Delhi?

Delhi’s entire public transportation runs on compressed natural gas (CNG). Converting the entire fleet into EVs at one go does not make any commercial sense.

Currently, the state has 50,000 registered e-rickshaws for which the state government provides a capital subsidy of Rs 30,000. The state is also planning to purchase 1,000 electric buses on a cluster-operator mode with a gross cost model. In this model, the operator of buses ropes in drivers and takes care of operations and maintenance of the buses, while the government provides depots, bus conductors and also collects the fare. The state government will also provide a viability gap funding. The cost of these buses is supposed to be at par with the low-floor, AC CNG buses. Therefore, there does not seem to be a need for capital subsidies. Apart from electric buses, we are trying to buy 2,000 CNG buses, which will bring the total number of buses in the city to 8,000.

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) floated two tenders to acquire 250 CNG and electric buses each, for last-mile connectivity. The fleet will operate in gross cost mode. These are experimental tenders but can prove to be successful as DMRC can easily arrange a depot and electric charging infrastructure.

The cap on three-wheelers that can operate on the roads, coupled with the high cost of e-rickshaws, has made us push the electric two-wheeler segment. Here, we are looking at the possibility of battery swapping. However, the battery swapping market is still at a nascent stage and will take time to mature.

Meanwhile, discoms in Delhi seem to be keen to develop charging infrastructure and are currently waiting for clarity from the regulators.

What are the other key initiatives taken by the Delhi government in this sector?

The Delhi government has approved the Mukhyamantri agriculture-cum-solar farm programme to solarise farms in the green belt area. The panels will be installed at a height of 3.5 metres to facilitate the movement of tractors. The electricity generated will be sold to government agencies. The farmers can use the electricity generated and sell the surplus to government agencies to earn an additional income. The first tender will cater to projects with a capacity of 15 MW and will be developed under the RESCO model.

On the financial front, the Delhi Cooperative Housing Finance Corporation is offering loans with an interest rate of 8.25 per cent per annum. Residential consumers and private institutions like schools and hospitals planning to set up rooftop solar can avail of these loans.

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