In a recent order, the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) has stated that the power generated by off-grid solar photovoltaic (PV) water pumps will be counted towards meeting the renewable purchase obligation (RPO) of Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (MSEDCL).

The MERC was responding to a petition filed by MSEDCL requesting the commission to consider solar PV power generated from off-grid solar PV water pumps under various solar agriculture pump programs as deemed generation towards its RPO fulfillment.

The commission observed that even though solar is the eligible renewable energy source for fulfilling RPO, regulations also mandate grid connectivity of such a source. The mandatory requirement of grid connectivity is for the exact accounting of energy generated from such sources which can be used for verification of RPO compliance or issuance of renewable energy certificates.

The MERC noted that in the present case, off-grid solar pumps are not connected to the grid, but the pumps do have the provision for online monitoring mechanism under which the details of electricity generated and water utilization by the solar pumps are automatically made available to MSEDCL. Therefore, the correct accounting of energy generated by off-grid agricultural solar pumps can be maintained which can be later used for the verification of RPO compliance.

The state commission stated that to maintain transparent energy accounting of energy generated from off-grid solar agricultural pumps, MSEDCL will provide Maharashtra Energy Development Agency (MEDA)the access to the online monitoring system. MEDA is the state agency for monitoring of RPO of obligated entities.

As agriculture consumers are not an obligated entity under MERC RPO regulations, allowing MSEDCL to use solar energy generated by off-grid Solar pumps for meeting its RPO obligation will also be consistent with the approach taken in net metering regulations, the commission stated in its order. Under net metering regulations, solar energy generated by rooftop solar PV project of the non-obligated consumer can be used for meeting RPO of distribution licensee.

In December 2018, MSEDCL had issued a tender for 50,000 solar PV water pumping systems. When contacted, an MSEDCL official said, “This is great news for us. On the one hand, our supply of subsidized power to the agricultural sector will drastically decrease through the installation and usage of solar PV pumps, and on the other hand, it will also add towards our RPO.”

The MSEDCL is following a plan to add solar capacity which also enables an increasing number of stakeholders to participate and look at the programs, the official further said.

“So far, not even one mega solar PV park has come up, but we have auctioned more than 1 GW of solar PV projects in the past few months under district wise and circle wise programs. We are one of the first implementing agencies to push for solar pumps in such a big way as we know its potential, both in terms of energy savings and cost savings on adding new capacity,” added the MSEDCL official.

In its petition, MSEDCL had stated that it had floated two tenders for 25,000 and 50,000 solar PV pumps. Out of these 75,000 off-grid solar PV pumps, about 440 million units of power are expected to be generated per annum. It can also prove to be a good practice that other distribution companies can observe and follow.

Image credit: Vishwajeet

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