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USAID-NREL Partnership Offers Solutions To Accelerate Distributed Photovoltaic Market Growth in India

Sept. 17, 2020

For anyone familiar with the renewable energy headlines coming out of India in the last few years, it is no secret the country is trying to quickly ramp up solar energy production. In 2014, India set a bold target of integrating 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy into their power mix by 2022. As part of that target, 40 GW is committed to come from rooftop photovoltaics (RTPV) and 60 GW from utility-scale photovoltaics (PV). While utility-scale PV is growing rapidly, RTPV and other smaller-scale distributed PV (DPV) struggles to keep pace.

As part of a long-term effort to facilitate DPV market design in India, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Partnership released two reports addressing deployment concerns for DPV technology. One report calls attention to common quality and safety issues at various stages of an RTPV system’s life, and offers solutions for addressing them, while the other report presents regulatory considerations for DPV-plus-storage program design for retail customers. Although the two reports assess different aspects of DPV deployment, they share the broader conclusion that there is tremendous opportunity for India's leaders to create supportive standards and regulatory frameworks to enable DPV deployment and meet India's 2022 targets.

Accountability and Assurance Programs May Ease RTPV Quality and Safety Concerns

The quality and safety of RTPV systems and their installation are critical concerns for investors, regulators, consumers, and distribution companies in India. Lack of compliance with the required quality standards, due to a push for low upfront prices, often leads to the installation of poor-quality systems that deliver less energy than expected over a shorter lifespan. This poses a major risk for the businesses, homeowners, or investors whose returns on investment depend on the amount of power generated from these systems. Additionally, systems that do not conform to minimum quality standards can create safety risks for the distribution network.

Distributed Solar Quality and Safety in India

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Data collected from stakeholder workshops and expert interviews were used to identify a prioritized approach to address the most common RTPV issues, which include the development of:

  • A module quality assurance program
  • A safety quality assurance program
  • A vendor rating framework (VRF).

As there are currently no mechanisms in place to monitor, evaluate, and rate vendors in India, the proposed next best step toward improving the quality and safety of RTPV installations is the development of a VRF, with the development of module and safety quality assurance programs to follow. As vendors and suppliers are held accountable for component and installation quality using this framework, a VRF would also provide an effective mechanism to link quality systems to market share by putting in place a procedure to evaluate, rate, and certify vendors based on their track record of designing, developing, and deploying systems.

"We've already heard from contacts in India's private sector expressing relief this issue is finally being addressed," said Carishma Gokhale-Welch, a project leader with the Integrated Applications Center (IAC) and co-author of the report titled Distributed Solar Quality and Safety in India.

RTPV quality and safety issues are not unique to India, and the considerations and proposals put forth in this report may be broadly applicable in other countries and contexts.

“What might be most compelling about the release of this analysis lies in its potential for scalability and global application,” Gokhale-Welch added.

In-Country Regulatory Bodies Already Considering DPV-Plus-Storage Recommendations

The second report looks at how India might take advantage of cutting-edge behind-the-meter energy storage systems paired with DPV.

A well-designed framework that coordinates the deployment and operations of these systems can allow them to deliver a range of important services to consumers, utilities, and the grid. A poorly managed framework could mean these systems instead create safety concerns, exacerbate utility revenue losses, or limit stakeholders' ability to achieve certain policy goals. 

A diagram of a grid-tied DPV system with storage, composed of icons of a house, storage battery, PV system, service meter and distribution pole.
Diagram of a DPV-plus-storage system. Figure by Christopher Schwing, NREL
The report, titled An Overview of Behind-The-Meter Solar-Plus-Storage Program Design: With Considerations for India, addresses this technology's specific challenges through regulatory considerations for DPV-plus-storage programs for retail customers. The report cites relevant cases from U.S. states as examples of how novel regulatory issues related to this technology are addressed in practice.

This analysis is already informing decisions within India's power sector. Following an in-country stakeholder workshop, staff from NREL and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory provided technical review and comments related to tariff design to the Gujarat Electricity Regulatory Commission (GERC) through USAID's Partnership to Advance Clean Energy Deployment (PACE-D) program to help:

  • Better align consumer demand with grid operational conditions such as energy availability and peak demand
  • Support more equitable and cost-reflective compensation for grid-connected solar PV systems
  • Incentivize behind-the-meter, grid-friendly battery storage deployment and grid cost-minimizing operations.

Based on the comments submitted, GERC commissioned studies to further understand time-of-day demand charges and time-of-day energy charges for new residential solar customers. These studies showcase how technical expertise from the U.S. Department of Energy laboratories complements support from USAID's on-the-ground implementing partners.

An Overview of Behind-The-Meter Solar-Plus-Storage Program Design: With Considerations for India

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Greening the Grid Toolkits Support International Clean Energy Technology Adoption

Both reports were developed through the USAID-NREL Partnership's Greening the Grid DPV Toolkit, in collaboration with the USAID PACE-D program. The DPV Toolkit is a long-standing USAID-NREL program that rose out of demand from in-country partners, such as organizations and ministries in India, for information and guidance to support safe, effective, and accelerated deployment of DPV.

As Greening the Grid evolves, new areas of focus continue to emerge. For example, this year the Greening the Grid team is developing additional resources and technical assistance related to two topic areas: battery energy storage and electric vehicles. Greening the Grid is now in the process of creating two new toolkits built around key issues within these topic areas.

“The emergence of promising technologies like batteries and electric vehicles means that countries need timely, trusted, and comprehensive information on their costs and benefits—and how to implement these technologies effectively," said Alexandra Aznar, a project leader in IAC and the DPV Toolkit manager. "Fortunately, the USAID-NREL Partnership has the breadth and depth of expertise and experience to meet those needs. These new toolkits are just the first steps.”

Learn more about DPV technologies and other resources provided by the Greening the Grid platform and its toolkits at greeningthegrid.org.