Most of the power utilities in India have been saddled with huge debts, is an open fact and a headache for most state governments and the recent schemes announced by the BJP government in the last term, were intended to help them improve efficiencies and bail them out of the financial mess that they were in. While the jury is still out, on whats been effective, there is a bright spot emerging
for many of them. It is upto some of the progressive ones to seize the moment and surge ahead and improve their finances.

Rooftop solar possibly represents one of the biggest opportunity for utility co.s

Power utilities have to look around and see whats going around in the world – what are some of the developed nations like the USA, countries in Europe, and Australia are doing – and one thing is in common. While many are working on a enormous digital transformation using smart metering, storage, and moving over to renewables,  its the last bit that is the big opportunity here. All countries have faced this problem of stranded assets, and Canada, Germany, Australia, Brazil are no exceptions. Presently, there is a huge focus around the world on climate change issues and the utilities that focus on integrating their energy sourcing through renewables can dovetail this source with modernization of their approach towards customers. Such utility companies can position themselves as progressive, and in tune with the changing needs. At the same time, through promoting solar rooftop as a demand reduction tool, and helping during peak time uses, they can also improve their finances. All this without huge investments into their own infrastructure. The need to partner with consumers to set up large rooftop solar plants has never been so high. Many utility companies realize this but have a ill placed notion that it will probably take their high paying customers away from their portfolio. If the utility company sits down and takes a micro view that takes into account their existing infrastructure, and demand management, and the availability of rooftop space with the consumers, and the supply it can create, there is a high chance that it can all balance out – and result in savings and improved finances for the utility. Agreed, that the balancing will be complex, but with smart metering, IoT, block chain, AI and advanced technology tools, predictive analysis / time of day tariff is possible. There is no need to operate in silos which is possibly the only reason many electricity companies view solar as a threat in India ( and in some other countries). It is possible to accurately capture demand in small and precise geography, and to accordingly do demand management. But are the utility companies investing in such talent or innovation around supply side to see what are the possibilities that rooftop solar can offer them ? Companies must realize that technology like Blockchain that helps to accurately pinpoint source of energy, in the overall mix, is available, for instance as a solution to a customer who needs to know original source of generation and offer this as a solution.  They need to embrace these and other tech solutions, to help them improve processes, and provide solutions. A cohesive approach that binds together the consumers and the suppliers, and the available distribution infrastructure that helps to understand supply and demand, can also, in the end, help improve finances. 

During the earlier years of energy mix transition, it was only the aim of pushing the energy mix to include solar. It is only now, that rigor is being applied to exactly how much and at what time / in what ratio that the utility companies are able to correctly figure out how much benefit it can derive.

In a major shift, most of the subsidy process and administering process for solar rooftop shall move to the utility. This is an additional benefit that can come for a short time – maybe the next 3-5 years – post which the subsidy regime needs to be phased out. 

The electric utility companies need to view this as an opportunity and not as a threat. They must realise that the consumers are an important stakeholder, and today the consumer is willing to invest into rooftop solar, simply because its a clean and green source. That’s all that matters. The hard part, which is the investment for generation comes from them.

What should the utility companies do today to help solar rooftop ?

They have to streamline and make the process of installing a solar rooftop plant so simple and convenient that the average household feels handheld at every stage. One may also partner with companies that install rooftop solar like Urja Unlimited, and create an eco system of sorts, that can help them service customers. True, this demands a huge culture change of sorts, atleast in India – that the utility company has to undergo – if it wishes to benefit from the current opportunity.

All utility companies will have to work on how we are going to manage through the energy transition and deal with the affordability, energy security and sustainability challenges. Its inevitable. The sooner they help their most important stakeholder – the customer in installing rooftop solar – and deriving benefit from that change, the better it is for their own survival.

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