India’s growing solar power capacity has started turning the economics of energy supply on its head. For good.
Farmers in most states get subsidised power through separate agricultural feeders. But as the country regularly faces a shortage, they are allowed to operate equipment and pumps only at night when household and industrial consumption eased. Solar farms, however, have prompted a change.
Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka have started providing this additional solar energy for irrigation during the day. The benefit is twofold: distribution companies grappling with subsidy bills worth Rs 75,000 crore can save on the average cost of power, and farmers get steady supply.
The daytime load in most states doesn’t witness peak demand, Shubhranshu Patnaik, partner at Deloitte India, told BQ Prime. With increasing solar penetration, there is a possibility of generation exceeding demand that needs to be absorbed, he said.
Thermal power plants, which take a few hours to start, cannot be shut down to accommodate solar energy and it’s also necessary that they remain switched on to meet the evening peak demand, he said. “One way to consume the solar power was to shift the night load of agriculture to day-time.”
India’s average agricultural power consumption is close to 20-25% of its total electricity demand of close to 200 gigawatts, he said.
“It offers huge potential across India—especially in the non-industrialised states—to shift the agricultural load to daytime, helping higher penetration of solar energy.”
According to Ashok Sreenivas, energy analyst at Pune-based energy policy group Prayas, states can save money by shifting agricultural power load to solar as it is much cheaper than their average cost of supply.
It also reduces line losses during transmission over large areas and lowers the subsidy burden on the government, Sreenivas said. It is environmentally beneficial, allows discoms to meet their renewable purchase obligations and provides reliable supply to farmers during the day rather than at night, he said.