TN can become clean energy leader

Bharath Jairaj / Deepak Krishnan | Updated on February 18, 2020

Easier access to solar panels, implementing KUSUM and meeting RPO obligation must be prioritised

Year 2019 has been another important one for the renewable energy (RE) sector in India. In Tamil Nadu, one of India’s earliest adopters of RE, the State government and its agencies took four significant steps towards a more ambitious RE future last year.

February 2019 saw the release of a new solar policy with an ambitious 9000 MW solar PV capacity to be installed in the State by 2023.

Second, the Tamil Nadu Electricity Regulatory Commission (TNERC) began discussions on the procedure to be adopted for re-powering of old wind turbines and organised public hearings in December 2019.

Third, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) issued guidelines for the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evem Utthan Mahabhiyan (PM KUSUM) scheme aimed at solarising agriculture. As a State with significant water and energy consumption in the agricultural sector, TN is expected to benefit significantly from the programme. In 2020, the State is expected to launch the KUSUM scheme for an initial 20,000 installations.

Fourth, in November 2019, the TNERC issued a draft amendment to the extant regulations on the Renewable Energy Purchase Obligations (RPO) of 2010. This draft seeks to align TN’s RPO growth with the long-term RPO trajectory (21 per cent from RE sources) until FY 2021-22 proposed by the Ministry of Power (MoP) in June 2018 (see Table). Cumulatively, these four steps signal a renewed focus on RE in TN’s energy future. This would require the following actions be carried out in 2020.


Operationalise the solar policy

The launch of a policy is a first step. As studies have shown, there is significant consumer interest to install solar panels on rooftops, but there remain both real and perceived barriers to overcome. With the right regulations and incentives, these can be resolved, particularly on the consumer side. For example, commercial and industrial consumers who were excluded from the “net feed-in” option in the solar policy, need to be included, as is the norm in most States.

Net feed-in mechanism is where the energy imported from the grid is debited at one tariff, while the energy to the grid is credited based on a (lower) solar tariff determined by the TNERC; and settlement is based on net credit/debit.

Revising the net feed-in tariff to reflect the Average Power Purchase Cost (APPC) will remove the disadvantage TN consumers face, owing to sale of excess power to the grid. Overcoming the limited understanding among residential consumers, of how to obtain solar panels and whom to contact should be taken up as a priority.

A strong and dedicated consumer helpline can help overcome information barriers.

KUSUM implementation

Agriculture is one of the most critical sectors in TN. And yet, much of the State’s agricultural sector receives limited electricity supply, often during non-peak hours. The Centre’s KUSUM scheme seeks to provide solar power directly to the farms, with the added incentive that farmers can sell additional power generated to TANGEDCO for a fee.

Different States are experimenting with different models within KUSUM. As TN rolls out KUSUM, the lessons from other States could be useful. Developing and implementing pilot schemes across the State will help TN hone on its own KUSUM design — one that also address the energy-water-nutrition-agriculture linkages.

Like many States, TN has not met its RPO. The Chart illustrates the phenomenon: RPOs for 2012-13, 2013-14, and 2014-15 were mandated to be the same as 2011-12. Final tariff orders for 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 are not yet out; hence RPO calculations are based on Aggregate Revenue Requirement (ARR) projections made in TANGEDCO’s August 11, 2017, tariff order.


India’s 2022 target of 175GW of RE will be achieved only if leading RE States like TN meet their targets. As per MNRE reports, TN is to set up 8.884 GW of solar, 11.9 GW of wind, 0.075 GW of small hydro and 0.649 GW of biomass by 2022.

As on October 31, 2019, the State had already achieved 0.12 GW of small hydro and about 1 GW of biomass, which are in excess of the target. Wind energy is currently at 9.23 GW, and recent discussions on re-powering existing wind plants are likely to result in exceeding the 11.9 GW target by 2022.

The challenge is with solar, where the current capacity is 3.1GW. The State will need to add 6 GW in the next three years to meet the RPO. While the solar policy will provide a much-needed fillip, TNERC must ensure that the RE contribution is not limited to new generation capacity installed, but that this RE is contributing to the share of electricity mix as is required to meet the RPO regulations.

Enforcing the RPO obligations to account for a higher share of RE in the electricity mix will require significant focus on integrated electricity planning, RE evacuation infrastructure and improving system operations in addition to tendering and capacity addition.

TN’s estimated RE potential goes significantly beyond the current RPO trajectory. Assessments conducted by expert agencies like the National Institute of Wind Energy (NIWE) indicate a wind potential of 33.8 GW (at 100 m mast height) and 68.75 GW (at 120 m mast height). Similarly, TN’s solar energy potential is estimated to be 17.67 GW.

Studies show that TN could be among the States to shift significantly to a RE-based supply, if energy storage is added. The State could initiate pilot projects to explore the multiple energy storage options that exist.

Tapping into the enormous RE potential that the State is endowed with can help ensure that the State’s energy supply is clean and affordable. TN can set an example for the rest of India.

The writers are part of the energy programme at WRI India

Published on February 18, 2020

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