The practice of forcing industries to cross-subsidize household consumers’ power tariffs is leading to an unprecedented shift among businesses towards captive solar power with some committing to go fully reliant on clean energy.
Cost of producing solar power, which was over Rs12 per kilowatt hour (unit) in 2010, has dropped sharply over the years.
The latest auction, which was held in November, saw takers for solar power projects willing to sell power at Rs3 a unit.
The fall in solar power generation cost has now made it attractive for businesses to go for captive solar power plants, including rooftop plants that supply power cheaper than from the grid, which is expensive on account of the cross-subsidy that industrial consumers are saddled with.
Businesses, especially in the manufacturing sector, have long been complaining of high cost of power, exorbitant tax on diesel and escalating cost of capital as factors that render them less competitive in global markets where their peers enjoy low or negative cost of capital and in some cases, subsidies.
“Solar power is now available at Rs 4-4.5 a unit. In the future, it will cost much less because of technology improvement and possibly low cost of capital. In West Bengal, for instance, cost of power from the grid for industries ranges from Rs 6-8 per unit at present. In Maharashtra, it is Rs 6.5 a unit. Everywhere, except two or three states, tariffs are above Rs 5 a unit for industrial consumers. If you are able to get concessional finance from any multilateral agency and you can produce solar power at Rs 4 a unit consistently for 25 years, it can reduce cost of energy for the business and reduce carbon emissions,” said Mahendra Singhi, chief executive officer, Dalmia Cements (Bharat) Ltd.
Dalmia Cements’s short term goal is to raise the share of clean energy in its total electricity consumption fourfold from 7% at present and to go fully reliant on clean energy in the long term.
Multilateral agencies such as International Finance Corp. (IFC), the private investment arm of World Bank Group, US Exim Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Japan International Cooperation Agency and Germany’s KFW are bullish on India’s rapidly expanding renewable energy industry for investment opportunities.
“We already have $1 billion of investments in clean energy projects in India. We are open to scaling it up to $3-4 billion in coming years,” said Shalabh Tandon, India lead, climate business & clean energy, IFC.
IFC on Thursday announced an equity investment of $125 million in Hero Future Energies Private Ltd., a clean energy firm, for a minority stake. Tandon said that IFC does not invest in coal-based thermal power because of its commitment to climate change goals.
Companies like Apple Inc., IKEA Group, Nokia Oyj, Infosys Ltd and Tata Motors Ltd are among those committed to becoming fully reliant on clean energy.
The Economic Survey 2015-16 had suggested that the burden of subsidising poor consumers can shift from industrial consumers to rich individuals and that state electricity regulators should use income as a yardstick to fix the power tariff for individual consumers. The idea was to help businesses become more competitive.
India has a target of putting in place 175 gigawatt (GW) of renewable power capacity by 2022, out of which 100 GW is to come from solar. At the moment, the country has about 8.7 GW of solar power capacity.
One hurdle that companies face in going fully reliant on clean energy is that storage of energy is a costly proposition, which makes them rely on stable power from the grid for a significant part of their energy consumption when renewable energy is not available. Singhi of Dalmia Cements said that once power storage becomes a viable option, the company will be fully run on clean energy.