The power capital of the country, Delhi is spread across a small area of just about 1,484 square km. A large part of this area is urban and densely populated, has a massive energy demand and generates tonnes of solid waste. The city is also among the most polluted in the world, which can be partly attributed to the low level of green energy adoption. According to the Central Electricity Authority, Delhi’s total installed power capacity is 7,574 MW, of which only 3 per cent comes from renewable energy sources. There are several challenges in reducing this gap, mainly pertaining to the city’s low wind and hydropower potential. In addition, the low land availability does not make it suitable for utility-scale solar development. That said, the state has immense scope to curb its emissions by making changes at the policy level and bringing about a shift in the attitude of its residents.
Solar power uptake
In recent years, the Delhi government has taken some steps to restrict the use of fossil fuels in power generation. In 2016, it released the Delhi Solar Policy, aimed at reducing the city’s reliance on conventional power and lowering the average energy prices in the long run. In a move to tap into Delhi’s immense rooftop solar potential, the government set a target of developing 1 GW of rooftop solar capacity by 2020. In addition to building a system to encourage commercial and industrial (C&I), and residential consumers to adopt rooftop systems easily, mandates were issued for the installation of solar capacities on the roofs of government buildings.
At the time of policy formulation, Delhi had an installed rooftop solar capacity of merely 5 MW, with a vision to add an average of 250 MW annually for the following four years. As of October 2020, Delhi had an installed rooftop solar capacity of around 177 MW, which was just about 20 per cent of the proposed capacity additions for the period. A large part of this capacity was contributed by government and institutional buildings, which means that the uptake of solar power at the C&I and residential levels has been lukewarm.
Delhi has a total solar energy potential of 2,500 MWp. The residential solar segment represents 50 per cent of this capacity, with the remaining being distributed equally between the C&I and public sectors. The state’s solar policy also outlined incentives for the adoption of residential solar, which included a generation-based incentive of Rs 2 per kWh. However, it was not perceived as a viable investment for the residents. The probable reasons for low adoption among residential consumers are linked to information asymmetry among end users, high upfront costs and limited availability of loans. Another deterrent to solar adoption in the residential space is the myth that solar power is not capable of running high-power appliances like TVs and air conditioners. Increased awareness about government policies and the economics of owning a rooftop solar system can help debunk such myths.
Towards a solar city
Given the poor outcomes of the policy, the state distribution companies, BSES Rajdhani Power Limited (BRPL) and BSES Yamuna Power Limited (BYPL), have launched campaigns and programmes to incentivise solar uptake at the community level. In November 2020, BRPL and BYPL, in partnership with SmartPower, a US-based non-profit organisation, launched a campaign of 8-10 weeks to encourage domestic consumers to set up rooftop solar systems.
On the finance end, BSES has reported that every kilowatt of rooftop solar capacity will supply 100-120 units of electricity every month, which will enable consumers to recover costs within three to four years of installation. At Indraprastha Power Generation Company Limited’s auction for 30 MW of residential solar capacity in 2019, the lowest price of Rs 32,400 was discovered for a 1 kW solar power system. Taking this one step further, residential solar rooftop company Zunroof offered rooftop solar systems for Rs 660 per month per household at a nominal processing fee of Rs 10,000.
To overcome the shortcomings of the Delhi Solar Policy, 2016, the government, in its Green Budget 2018-19, proposed the Mukhyamantri Kisan Aay Badhotri Yojana to develop solar capacities on agricultural land, which could potentially increase the income of farmers in the city. Under the project, solar panels will be installed on 225 acres of agricultural land spread across nine villages in the north-western border of the city. It is expected that farmers will get paid Rs 100,000 per acre per year as rent under the initiative. This figure will be increased by 6 per cent compounded annually. Since the programme has not been launched officially, there are concerns on whether solar capacities can be viable when they are set up on scattered patches of land.
Focus on waste-to-energy
Given its large urban population, Delhi is expected to have an efficient solid waste management system. However, at present, the city does not have adequate infrastructure and awareness to prevent municipal solid waste from accumulating. The garbage problem in Delhi represents a huge environmental burden. The Ghazipur landfill, for example, has amassed over 14 million tonnes of solid waste, which has piled up to a height of 65 metres. To address this, the Delhi government has been developing waste-to-energy (WtE) plants since 2012 to convert the mountains of accumulated waste in the city into electricity. As of today, Delhi has about 52 MW of installed WtE capacity. With tonnes of garbage still occupying landfills, there are plans to build more.
The Delhi government has planned to expand the Timarpur-Okhla WtE plant, the oldest in the city, from its 16 MW capacity to 40 MW. In July 2020, NTPC Limited and Indian Oil announced their plans to install an additional capacity at the Okhla landfill for the production of about 17,500 tonnes of biomass-derived gas annually, which will be used for the production of power. It was also announced that the Bhalaswa dump in north-west Delhi will house a 15 MW WtE plant.
Adopting green transport
Adding to the state’s air pollution are the emissions from vehicular traffic on its roads. The number of vehicles per 1,000 population in the city has gone up from 317 in 2005-06 to 598 in 2017-18. This number is expected to go up in the future, given past trends. Instead of curbing vehicular purchases, the Delhi government has been pushing for increased adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and other low-carbon options to bring down emissions in the transport sector. In August 2020, the Delhi government launched the Electric Vehicle Policy, 2020 to encourage the adoption of EVs among residents and commercial enterprises in the state. The policy offers incentives over and above those offered by the central government under FAME Phase II – up to Rs 30,000 for two- and three-wheelers and up to Rs 150,000 for four-wheelers. On February 4, 2021, the government launched the “Switch Delhi” campaign as a mass movement for the adoption of EVs in the city. With efforts to improve the charging infrastructure and added incentives for adoption, the results have been promising so far.
In public transport, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has led the way with rapid strides towards the adoption of greener fuel for powering trains. It powers about 60 per cent of its operations through renewable energy sources. The DMRC has already installed about 43 MW of solar power projects, mainly based on the RESCO model, across the National Capital Region. In April 2019, it started procuring 27 MW of power from the Rewa Solar Park in Madhya Pradesh with the aim to take this up to 99 MW. Moreover, the DMRC procures 2 MW of bioenergy from the Ghazipur WtE plant.
The Delhi government has also announced a pilot initiative to launch 50 buses, which are powered by the Indian Oil Corporation’s newly patented hydrogen-enriched compressed natural gas (H-CNG) technology. A recent study shows that the technology only requires minor modifications in the existing design of buses and costs 22 per cent less than the conventional fuel cell technology. Further, it is estimated that it reduces carbon monoxide emissions by 70 per cent and hydrocarbon emissions by 25 per cent.
It is quite clear that Delhi has immense potential to improve its renewable energy infrastructure. To cater to the city’s large energy requirements at low-carbon emission levels, it is essential to harness its solar potential. At the residential level, awareness must improve among potential consumers so that solar can be seen as a viable investment option, and as one that could reduce emissions in the country. A recent study by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water on rooftop solar systems in the state indicated that 30 societies in Dwarka, New Delhi, save over Rs 20 million per annum in energy costs. It is also a viable option for discoms as they could potentially save Rs 5,500 for every kilowatt of capacity installed. The Delhi government has also set up about 21 MW of rooftop capacity on 150 government school buildings in the city. This could potentially help schools earn Rs 85 million per year by selling power to discoms. These examples must be seen as a learning experience to scale up the state’s rooftop capacity.
With WtE plants, there has been some progress on reducing the waste at landfills, but there are still environmental concerns that are yet to be addressed. WtE plants in the city are unpopular for generating toxic fumes, which pose a massive health hazard to residents in surrounding areas. There are also concerns regarding poor waste segregation at the household level leading to huge costs in the separation of waste. These gaps should be filled to ensure the viability of the projects.
In sum, reducing emissions and increasing the uptake of clean energy technologies in the UT requires efforts from not just the government, but also the people, who must step up to make Delhi greener.