A new rooftop solar programme makes the Environment and Social Systems Assessment (ESSA) mandatory for all proposed projects
Installing a rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) system in India comes with certain technical standards and guidelines that must be adhered to. But until now, there were no regulations to govern the environmental, health and safety impacts (EHS) of these systems.
The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has proposed, under a new programme supported by the World Bank, to install 10,000 megawatts of grid-connected rooftop solar PV (GRPV) on an accelerated basis in the next three years. The important thing to note is that this programme makes the Environment and Social Systems Assessment (ESSA) mandatory for all proposed projects.
The programme supports two types of GRPV systems—grid-interactive systems with and without backup. In the former, the system will generate and supply power for the grid. During a power failure, it will shut down and stop injecting power into the grid. In the latter, the system will continue to supply power to the grid as it has a battery or diesel generator backup.
The purpose of ESSA is to ensure that the GRPV programme leads to a reduction in local pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and yields only positive environmental impacts. Following are the EHS requirements stated in the programme:
Whether the GRPV proposal,
- requires lopping/pruning of tree branches to ensure shadow-free area; if yes, whether permissions are obtained from consent authorities for periodic lopping/pruning of trees
- assesses structural safety of the building, present condition of roof for leakages/cracks and adequacy of roof drainage
- confirms that the roofing material does not contain any carcinogenic material like asbestos
- states whether any arrangement has been agreed with manufacturers to take back damaged/discarded panels and accessories
- includes estimated water requirements for washing of panels and dependable arrangements to draw or share water from the same water connection
- has an earthing system which is as per Indian Electricity Act 1956
- requires consent to establish and operate from the state pollution control board
- secures roof rights and has uninterrupted access to the roof via the existing staircase
- includes the provision of safety material like first aid box, rubber mats and fire extinguishers
- whether the proponent has an accreditation of ISO 14000, OHSAS 18001 or has received any recognition for environmental friendly initiatives
Generally, the environmental impact of GRPV is expected to be less significant, with problems of modest intensity and duration. Only when the disposal of damaged or discarded panels is not covered in the take-back policy does the environmental impact become significant.
In terms of social impact, the GRPV projects improve the air quality of local communities. As the GRPV plants are installed on rooftops, the only negative social impact is the limited access to rooftops.
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