How Chennai Estate Agents Flout Building Rules By Renting Rooftop Solar Panels

According to a report by Greenpeace India published in April 2018, the total solar potential on the rooftops of Chennai is 1380 MW. A large part, almost 46%, can come from the residential sector. Representative image. Photo: Laasya Shekhar

On July 8, 2021, a Chennai-based construction and real estate company obtained the Certificate of Completion from the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) for its newly constructed residential building, located on Valmiki Street in East Tambaram. The building consists of a floor on stilts plus five floors and houses 15 housing units. Besides equipment such as rainwater harvesting structures and fire permits, the building had also declared a functional rooftop solar installation in order to obtain the certificate of completion, which is a prerequisite for all builders to obtain water, sewer and electricity connections.

According to Tamil Nadu Combined Development and Construction Rules 2019, one third of the total patio area in multi-storey buildings should be reserved for the installation of photovoltaic solar panels. “The approximate space required to erect a solar panel is 10 m² to generate 1 KW of electricity”, specify the rules. However, in this case, when CMDA inspected its premises during the last week of September 2021, two months after the issuance of the certificate of completion, no solar installation was found on the roof.

“The site in charge said the solar panels had been sent for repair. But why would the newly installed solar panels need to be repaired? “Asked a manager of the CMDA department, adding that a justification notice had been issued for this purpose. The manager wished to remain anonymous.

“The panels were damaged during installation a few months ago. After the CMDA inspection, we installed new ones a month ago (around mid-October), ”said the project manager of the construction company.

However, it is not a stand-alone body. In yet another case, a 5-story commercial building in Dhandayuthapani Nagar, Kotturpuram declared rooftop solar connections while obtaining the certificate of completion in October 2020, according to the CMDA website. But again, when the CMDA team inspected the premises in October 2021, they found no facilities. “We issued a one-off notice, asking them to install solar on the roof,” said the CMDA official. Attempts to contact the site manager were unsuccessful.

Regular business?

The two cases cited above are not rare or exceptional in their violation of the rules relating to solar roofing. Most of the multi-story buildings in Chennai were found to be flouting the 2019 rules regarding the provision of solar infrastructure.

“Of the 770 buildings that obtained certificates of completion between February 2019 and September 2020, CMDA officials inspected 157 buildings. Of these, 80 buildings did not have a solar roof at the time of the inspection, ”said CMDA member secretary Anshul Mishra. Note that eight CMDA teams, each made up of a planner and a field agent, inspected the buildings. “Most of them only complied with the rules after receiving show cause notices,” Anshul added.

Solar roof data according to CMDA inspections
Status of rooftop solar power in high-rise buildings in Chennai, as revealed by CMDA inspections. Graphic by Laasya Shekhar

“While it is indeed disturbing to know of the massive rule violation by manufacturers, it is also important to recognize their problems. In an age when low budget homes are a thing in Chennai, builders cannot increase their investment as this will increase the cost of ownership and therefore prove bad for business. Installing solar panels on rooftops is easy, but getting the connection from TNEB is a tedious process that requires bribing officials, ”a CREDAI member said on condition of anonymity.

Read more: Solar roof for your home in Chennai: challenges and solutions

The rise of a black market

In the meantime, a thorough examination of the realities on the ground reveals that many multi-story buildings in Chennai choose to rent rooftop solar panels to get a certificate of completion, rather than putting up permanent structures. It also indicates the prevalence of an unauthorized market network that rents solar panels on city rooftops.

As directed by the Chief Minister Capital incentive program for solar roofs in Tamil Nadu, citizens or builders should only opt for installers commissioned by the Tamil Nadu Energy Development Agency (TEDA). However, real estate agents are opting for lesser-known consulting firms that rent rooftop solar panels.

“The minimum lease term is one month, and we take care of everything from installing the signs and removing them once the realtors get the certificates of completion,” said a staff member. from a renowned consulting firm, located in Maduravoyal. The consulting firm provides rooftop rental services in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka as well as Tamil Nadu.

Demand is skyrocketing, apparently. “We receive a minimum of 10 to a maximum of 30 orders per month. Most of our clients are from the ECR region of Chennai, ”added the staff member. Rooftop solar panels imported from China are in high demand in the city, he said.

From a business point of view, this generates lucrative profits for these suppliers. “A supplier may only own panels with a capacity of 10 KW, but still generate limited returns on investment by installing and uninstalling the same panels over and over,” said Ashok Kumar, member of the advisory board of the Tamil Nadu Electricity Regulatory Commission (TNERC).

According to Narayanan K, the site manager of a real estate company, this is done mainly to reduce costs. While it takes Rs 40,000 to rent solar panels with a capacity of 10 KW for a month, it costs Rs 4.4 lakh to install permanent structures. It takes about six years to recover that amount. “Why would a real estate agent, who wants to offer the customer the cheapest price possible, increase their costs through expensive investments in rooftop solar power? Narayanan questioned.

Another often cited reason behind the violation is aesthetics and utility. “In multi-storey buildings, terraces are often used for leisure facilities. Selling an apartment in a multi-story building is difficult if a lot of the patio space is filled with solar panels, ”said Sneha Priya, who works in the commercial department of a construction company.

Read more: Rooftop Solar Connections: Why Are Townhouses Lacking?

Conquer the goal

These trends threaten the achievement of the objectives of Tamil Nadu’s Solar Energy Policy (2019), which sets an ambitious target of 3,600 MW of rooftop solar capacity by 2023. “The state’s total installed capacity as of December 2020 stands at 14% of the target,” said a report of the Consumer Citizen and Civic Action Group (CAG).

According to a Greenpeace India report, entitled, Rooftop Revolution: Unlocking the Potential of Chennai’s Rooftops released in April 2018, the total rooftop solar potential of Chennai is 1,380 MW. “A lot of that, almost 46%, can come from the residential sector. If this is done, it can help the city reduce demand for electricity by around 10%, ”the report says.

Apartment owners who wish to file a complaint against the builders for non-compliance with TN building regulations and non-provision of facilities such as solar power on the roof can write to CMDA at [email protected] .com

Rooftop solar adoption will only be achieved if real estate companies and municipalities, which play an important role in the city’s residential market, adhere to TN building regulations. “We are working on a legal mandate to impose sanctions on violators,” Anshul Mishra assured.

Sustained due diligence on the part of the CMDA is also crucial to ensure compliance with building regulations. In September 2021, when it was reported that the planning authority was inspecting solar installations in buildings, real estate agents rushed to rent the panels, convinced that once certificates were issued they would not recheck again.

The path to follow

“CMDA only issues completion certificates once in the life of the building. However, as the services of the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB) continue to be used by buildings, the department should monitor the buildings’ power consumption. This could give a clue to non-functioning solar structures. The TNEB assistant engineer must inspect the premises and cut off the power supply if the roofs are found to be devoid of solar panels, ”said Ashok Kumar of TNERC. Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Limited (TANGEDCO), he adds, should take action against vendors who rent rooftop solar panels.

According to a CMDA official, however, the benefits of rooftop solar power accrue to TNEB and, therefore, the operation and maintenance of solar panels should be overseen by the electricity department. Their readings (bi-monthly statements in residential and monthly readings in commercial premises) can give an idea of ​​the solar panels installed.

When we contacted Tamil Nadu Energy Secretary DP Yadav during the last week of October, he said, “We will get a report from TANGEDCO and CMDA to analyze the collective capacity of solar installations installed on the plants. rooftops “.

Finally, however, the real potential of Tamil Nadu’s solar energy policy will only be realized when citizens / apartment owners understand the importance of renewable energy. “Increased investment leading to higher home prices is the reason builders are bending the law and opting to lease solar panels. If end customers are made aware of the economic benefits of rooftop solar power, they would be willing to invest a few extra lakhs when purchasing the home. After all, their savings on long-term electricity bills would be substantial, ”said Ashok Kumar.

This story was produced with support from the Earth Journalism Network of Internews.

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