Uttar Pradesh is falling short of solar energy targets; here’s why

The state has the highest electricity demand, but target of 22,000 MW solar power by 2026-27 unrealistic at current pace

By Varsha Singh
Published: Tuesday 26 September 2023
Solar plant in Sitapur district. Photo: Varsha Singh

Despite having the largest population and highest electricity demand, Uttar Pradesh is lagging behind in achieving its solar energy targets. The state plays a crucial role in achieving Net Zero emissions and  meeting renewable energy targets in the country.

The highest demand for electricity in the country in July 2023 was in UP (15.3 billion units) and Maharashtra (15.3 billion units), according to a report by nonprofit Vasudha Foundation in collaboration with Centre’s public policy think tank NITI Aayog.

However, UP is at the ninth place in clean energy production. The state has 75 districts, but the big solar projects limited to only a few districts, including Bundelkhand.

Read more: Solar power to drive renewable energy investments to $2.6 trn by 2019 end: Report

Long road, glacial pace

The total installed energy capacity in Uttar Pradesh through March 2022 was 30,769 megawatts (MW). Through December 31, 2022, solar energy production in the state was 2,485.16 MW.

The state government has set a target of producing 22,000 MW solar power by 2026-27. That means if about 14 MW of solar power plants are installed every day, then this target can be achieved within the stipulated time. But is the state moving forward at this pace?

Map of grid-connected solar projects 

Source: UPNEDA website [Note: The map is not updated]

Uneven distribution of projects

UP has ambitious projects like solar cities, solar parks, on grid and off grid projects and green corridors. But the big advantage of solar energy is that it can be generated in every home and village.

Grid-connected solar power projects are limited to a few districts on the state map. Large solar projects are underway in 18 out of the 75 districts in the state, according to data available on the website of Uttar Pradesh New and Renewable Energy Development Agency (UPNEDA).

Read more: Rooftop solar power’s massive job potential untapped

This means that in 57 districts, there is no or very little production.

A majority of these projects are in drought-prone areas of Bundelkhand region, where the land is unsuitable for farming. The state has 949 MW of grid-connected solar projects, according to the UPNEDA website. Of these, 553 MW projects are in seven districts of Bundelkhand.

These figures are from the UPNEDA website and have not been updated. However, these help to paint a clearer picture of solar energy in the state.

Transmission lines between the farms in Saharanpur. Photo: Varsha Singh

Solar energy at every doorstep?

Roof Top Solar (RTS) Programme and Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha and Utthan Mahabhiyan (PM-KUSUM Yojana) are two important schemes for bringing solar energy to every home, turning ordinary people and farmers into solar entrepreneurs, creating jobs and raising living standards. There are plans in the works.

The second phase of the RTS scheme was started in the year 2022, according to the annual report of the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) for 2022-23. Under this, out of 3,408.13 MW allocated to 36 states and union territories, UP has been given a target of 121.2 MW. However, through December 31, 2022, only 23.70 MW solar plants were installed in the residential areas of Uttar Pradesh.

Including the first and second phase, 163.34 MW capacity plants were installed under RTS in all sectors, including residential and commercial, through December 31, 2022.

There is no enthusiasm about RTS in small towns and villages. “Power cuts are more prevalent in smaller districts,” said CP Verma, project officer for UPNEDA in the Bijnor district of western Uttar Pradesh.

“The electricity generated from the solar plant will go to the grid only when there is electricity. Its demand is not much in Bijnor. People are taking an interest in RTS in big cities like Allahabad, Varanasi and Lucknow,” Verma said.

Read more: Can solar pumps save groundwater while cutting debt of power cos?

Paying lump sums for RTS is also not easy for lower and middle class families. UPNEDA Director Anupam Shukla said, “The money has to be paid first in this scheme and the subsidy comes later. So for RTS, we are working on big cities, municipal corporations and the upper middle class.”

Under the Ayodhya Solar City project, UPNEDA is entering into an agreement with the Small Industries Development Bank of India to arrange funds for the consumers to install RTS, Shukla said. The bank is the apex regulatory body for overall licensing and regulation of micro, small and medium enterprise finance companies in India.

Even under the central government’s ambitious PM KUSUM scheme, UP’s performance so far has been disappointing. According to the MNRE report, 225 MW plants were approved in UP under PM Kusum Yojana-A (Grid Connected Solar Plants) for the year 2022-23. But not a single plant came into existence.

In Kusum-B, out of 36,842 sanctioned solar pumps, only 12,773 pumps were installed. In Kusum-C, zero pumps were installed as compared to 400,000 pumps, the report showed.

Considering these results, the scheme has been modified and introduced as KUSUM-C2.

Due to a lack of subsidies, farmers did not take an interest in Kusum-A, said Shukla. In KUSUM-C2, the Government of India is giving a subsidy of Rs 1 crore and the state government is giving a subsidy of Rs 50 lakh per MW.

“We have floated its tender in July-2023. The target is to produce 2000 MW power in the first phase of the scheme,” Shukla said. 

Solar projects have also been approved for two power substations of Saharanpur in KUSUM-C2. However, arranging land for the solar plant is proving difficult, said RB Verma, project officer of UPNEDA in the district. 

Read more: Solar power: From a decade of acceptability and growth to one of innovations

“The price of fertile land is high here. Whereas the electricity rate (Rs 3.10/unit) seems low to the farmers. If the farmer gets Rs 4-4.50/unit, they might find it a profitable deal,” said Verma.

Practical goals

There is also a need to make the goals of solar energy practical and to provide technical training to the employees of UPNEDA and UPPCL.

The target was to connect one lakh domestic consumers with rooftop solar in the financial year 2022-23, pointed out Neeraj Vajpayee, president of Uttar Pradesh Renewable Energy Development Association.

“But in 1.5 years, only 4,000 people applied for the RTS. For the last two years, the government has not been able to get the tender for KUSUM Yojana for solar plants ranging from 500 kilowatts to 2 MW. There were continuous technical flaws in the tender. Therefore, UPNEDA needs to overcome the technical-practical problems being faced at ground level,” said Vajpayee.

Area-wise action plan needed

UP is a large and diverse state. Land is cheaper in Bundelkhand, because it is drought-prone compared to western or eastern UP, which has fertile agricultural land. Therefore, most of the big solar projects are in Bundelkhand.

“You cannot have the same solar policy for Bundelkhand and Saharanpur,” said Vikash Sharma, president of the Agrivoltex (farmland solar plants) branch at the nonprofit Rural Development Trust.

“Due to the low price of land, investors in Bundelkhand bid up to Rs 2-2.50/unit. Whereas these rates are not practical for other districts. That is why farmers or entrepreneurs do not see any benefit in investing in solar plants in these districts,” he said.

Read more: Overshadowed: Will wind power lose out to solar energy in India

Delhi-based nonprofit Council of Energy Environment and Water (CEEW) is helping the state in its renewable energy transition.

But can every district of UP contribute to solar energy production? Disha Aggarwal, senior programme associate of the organisation, said, “Solar developers, discoms and UPNEDA in the state will have to work together to create a business model for the specific area. The target can be set on the basis of which business model is right for the area. Some pilot programmes can be run as an experiment for one or two years”.

Availability of land in districts other than Bundelkhand is a big challenge for big solar projects, said Aggarwal. “There is a need to bring plants ranging from rooftop solar to 1-2 MW within the reach of people. Only then will people adopt them more and more,” she said.

The goals set by the Uttar Pradesh government through the Solar Energy Policy-2022 will now have to be implemented by removing ground difficulties and coming up with solution for the technical issues.

(This story was produced with support from Internews’s Earth Journalism Network)

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