Solar rooftop system

Cost, maintenance concerns cork prospects

Despite having huge potential, the solar rooftop system in urban areas of Bangladesh has not been a success story, mainly because of the lack of a feasible business model to implement the system on a large scale.
In 2010, the government made it mandatory for customers to install solar panels for getting new electricity connections in households. The plan was to make these panels produce 3 per cent of the total electricity needs of any building. However, due to irregularities resorted to by consumers, a section of government employees as well as sellers of solar panels, the initiative failed to achieve its desired goals.
For instance, many consumers, instead of installing power-generating permanent photovoltaic panels, set up rented panels on rooftops without laying distribution lines. These window dressing panels, rented for small periods, were used to convince a section of government employees that proper solar panels had been installed.
Some government inspectors, upon payment of bribes, allegedly awarded clearance to such consumers. Further, many solar panel traders too did brisk business by renting out solar panels for certain periods.
Former President of the Institute of Architects of Bangladesh (IAB), Architect Mubassher Hussain, told The Independent that he personally faced such situations several times. “I was told by a lower mid-level government employee that if I pay a bribe, I won’t need to pay the hefty amount for solar panels on roofs. The employee also assured me that no high-level government employee would ever visit my rooftop to check whether I had installed the solar panels or not.”
This apart, many people bought lower-grade panels as eyewash. “I can guarantee that if a survey is conducted right now, more than 80 per cent of solar rooftop systems installed in Dhaka after the 2010 directive, will be found ineffective,” said Mubassher.
In 2014, the government even decided to withdraw this mandatory requirement of installing solar panels on rooftop of buildings to get new electricity connections. However, later, it directed that customers will have to deposit the cost of a solar panel to the Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority (SREDA) fund, which in turn will help build green power plants for rural areas that are yet to get electricity.
At the time, the draft guideline prepared by the government said that consumers will have to deposit Tk, 2,000 for each kilowatt above 2KW and by that token, anyone applying for a 6KW connection will have to pay Tk 8,000 in total. Nearly 18 months have passed since then but the plan is yet to be implemented.
Meanwhile, experts have said that the government’s plan to reduce consumption of electricity by making it mandatory for building owners to install solar panels on rooftops has failed to yield the desired results.
Director, Centre for Energy Research, United International University (UIU), Shahariar Ahmed Chowdhury, said that it is not a well thought out plan. Instead of connecting the panels with the national grid, batteries have been included in the system which are costly, difficult to maintain, and unnecessary.
Shahariar further said no consideration has been given to whether the position of the building is right to get unhindered sunlight. Setting up of a solar panel would also eat into precious open rooftop space in a cramped city like Dhaka.
However, Chief Architect of the Department of Architecture of Bangladesh Government, Kazi Golam Nasir, said that rooftop space can be saved even after installing solar rooftop system. “We need a policy change for that. If a 10 feet elevated platform is allowed on the rooftop of a high rise building to accommodate solar panels, it can easily save rooftop space,” he said.
SREDA member, Siddique Zobair, expressed the belief that rooftop solar system has great potential. In his research, he found that the estimated rooftop solar system capacity in Bangladesh is about 1,000 MW of which, 400 MW will be on government/semi-government owned buildings.
“Ironically, till date, only 20 MW of rooftop solar system has been installed on rooftops of residential and office buildings. And it is true that most of the rooftop solar systems now are either not working or are in a fragile condition,” said Siddique. He said that cost and maintenance are important factors in installing solar rooftop systems.
“Who will bear the cost and who will be the authority to take care of maintenance are important factors behind solar rooftop installation. We need to address those,” he added.
Firstly, Siddique suggested that capital cost be borne by the government. The system will be implemented if government takes the initiative, he said, however there will be ownership issues and hence, maintenance will suffer.
Secondly, Siddique suggested public-private ownership for the solar rooftop system. A generation-based incentive to the private sector will ensure long-term utilisation. Also, the government will only need to have interaction with a limited number of credible developers, he noted. However, Siddique was quick to add, “The problem that might happen in public-private partnership is that property owners will be unwilling to sign long-term lease agreements. Besides, incentives from solar generation will not be enough compared to real estate lease.”
Thirdly, Siddique suggested that some select sponsors will manage rooftops themselves and submit project proposals based on the feed in tariff/benchmark tariff to the Power Division. Upon approval of these proposals, power utilities will sign Power Purchasing Agreements (PPA) with sponsors, who in turn will develop the project, operate and maintain it and sell electricity to power utilities.
“I think we have the scope and opportunities to explore all options. One thing is for sure that for a sustainable future in the energy sector, we indeed need to explore all the possibilities,” he said.
Recently, the government, in a bid to harness the potential of solar rooftop system, has decided to install solar rooftop systems on the rooftops of all district government buildings, which includes Ganabhaban. The project to install mini solar plants on rooftops will be launched at the district office in Jamalpur. Thereafter, the government will identify appropriate buildings in each district within a month, with the help of the Public Works Department (PWD). However, this is not the first time that an initiative to install mini solar plants on rooftops has been taken.
State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, Nasrul Hamid Bipu, said that the Solar Home System (SHS) has been a success story in rural Bangladesh. “SHS is one kind of rooftop system and if our villages can do that successfully, it can be successfully done in urban areas too,”
he said.