Maharashtra, with a cumulative renewable energy capacity of 9,871.64 MW, houses about 14 per cent of the country’s total green energy capacity. Renewable energy contributes about 22.5 per cent of the state’s power mix. Maharashtra is blessed with extremely favourable renewable energy conditions, which have made it a popular destination for wind and solar developers. Going into the new year, the state cabinet announced the “Unconventional Energy Policy 2020”, which defines the blueprint for renewable energy development in the state. The policy is aimed at reducing pollution and instances of power outages in the state, which are attributed to rapid urbanisation and industrialisation.
Solar leads the way
The first part of the policy has set a target of developing 17,385 MW of renewable energy by 2025. Of this capacity, 12,390 MW will be contributed by solar power projects, 2,500 MW by wind, 1,350 MW by cogeneration, 380 MW by small-hydro projects, 200 MW by solid waste-to-energy plants, and the remaining 25 MW by new technologies.
With a large part of the target capacity to be contributed by solar, the policy offers further details as to how this will be achieved. It breaks down the solar energy target of 12,390 MW such that 10,000 MW would be achieved through stand-alone solar power projects, 2,000 MW through grid-connected rooftop solar projects, 550 MW through solar-based water supply projects, and 250 MW through solar projects in the agricultural sector. The remaining 150 MW will be contributed in an equal ratio by solar (and wind) projects with integrated storage, wind-solar hybrid projects, and solar-powered electric vehicle charging stations. Private entities and agencies will be the implementing authorities for all solar projects except for rooftop solar projects, for which the central government will be in charge. The latter will also have the option to implement water supply projects.
Focus on decentralised technologies
The second part of the policy specifies the state’s plan for expanding the deployment of transmission-free renewable energy projects. To this end, the government has planned for the development of 52,000 kW of decentralised rooftop or ground-mounted solar capacity. Additionally, the policy proposes the installation of 100,000 agricultural solar pumps and 2,000
pumps for water supply every year for the next five years. The government also aims to electrify 10,000 rural homes, build dedicated microgrid projects for 20 homes, and establish 55,000 square feet of solar water/solar cooking systems as well as 800 solar cold storage projects. The total estimated investment for creating the proposed decentralised capacities is Rs 780 million per annum.
Reception and future outlook
The current policy reflects the state government’s desire to significantly add to its solar capacity. The policy states that the issue of poor response to recent solar tenders will be looked into by the regulatory commission. It has also created a single-window portal for approval of all projects at 1 per cent of the project cost, which could speed up capacity development. Further, it addresses problems with regard to obtaining land clearances and promotes transmission line-linked projects.
The rooftop solar segment has developed extremely slowly at the national level, and Maharashtra’s current policy does not show enough promise in overcoming this gap. Although a target of 2,000 MW by 2025 has been set, the state is reliant
solely on central government funding for achieving this target and does not promote the renewable energy service company model. The policy also suggests that approvals would be required from the Maharashtra Energy Development Agency for even behind-the-meter projects, which
could create unnecessary delays. And while there will be no grid support charges, this could be counterproductive and threaten grid stability if rooftop systems are not distributed evenly across the state. As such, greater policy clarity is needed on the extent to which the grid can support variable distributed renewable energy.
The Maharashtra Unconventional Energy Policy, 2020 certainly sets the tone for the renewable energy sector as it steps into the next decade, but it offers very little information on how these ambitious targets will be achieved, which is critical for segments that are lagging, such as rooftop solar, given the issues related to metering systems and low adoption rates. Nevertheless, the policy has acknowledged the need to step up the state’s green initiatives and has aligned its efforts to help the country achieve its larger climate goals.