“Assessment of Net-Metering based Solar Systems Installed at IESCO & LESCO”. Study. The research analysis is based on assessment of 40 solar photovoltaic system located in Islamabad & Lahore

Malpractices, quality issues, lacunas in import regulations hampering solar prosumage efficiency: IPS Study

ISLAMABAD ( Web News )

Quality issues in solar panels, procedural malpractices in integration methods, inadequacy in solar product imports and lack of technical inspection for solar installations amid net-metering is hampering the transition towards renewable energy in Pakistan, an IPS study concludes.

Titled “Assessment of Net-Metering based Solar Systems Installed at IESCO & LESCO”, the study was carried out by Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) with the support of GIZ Pakistan (German Agency for International Cooperation) and Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB), with active participation of National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), Islamabad Electric Supply Company (IESCO), Lahore Electric Supply Company (LESCO), Renewable Energy Association of Pakistan (REAP), Solar Quality Foundation (SQF) and several solar vendors. The research analysis is based on assessment of 40 solar photovoltaic system located at different locations in Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore.

The study, which was carried out under the technical expertise of Dr. Hassan Abdullah Khalid, a post-doctorate in solar energy systems, and investigated and authored by Muhammad Hamza Naeem and Lubna Riaz under the Institute’s Energy, Water and Climate Change program – demonstrates that there is significant number of solar PV systems being installed which are non-compliant with the defined regulations and procedures of quality assurance, technical integration and international codes. There is evidence of overlooking of technical quality aspects for regulated solar PV installations, including quality compromises on solar panel installations, inadequacy in the interconnection methods, the issues in the mounting structure and malpractices with the regulations which could bring the imperfection in technical integration methods based on overall market dynamics of solar accessories and even cause serious accidents which may prove to be very fatal and costly for the solar prosumers. A mechanism of technical inspection and quality check-up based on necessary parameterization is lacking in the services of distribution companies, too.

During the assessment, it was discovered that about 22% of the solar systems are equipped with the solar panels non-compliant with the quality parameters, where hotspots, snail trail contamination and delamination demonstrate the compromise of mandatory manufacturing standards, which are imported despite the existence of procedures for qualification of the quality-assured products. Moreover, the solar installations with inadequate interconnection methods are found to be 15%, with the percentage ratio of 10% of solar systems which have improper mounting structure and locality which can drastically reduce the longevity of the net-metering.

The report states that the allowance of installation of grid-tied solar system has opened up the power market of Pakistan towards electricity consumers being shaped as ‘prosumers’, where they are capable to supply environment-friendly and cheap power to the distribution grid. This facility of net-metering on the other hand, has also paved the way for productivity and profitability of many business entities associated with solar panels supply and retailers, system installations, smart devices, and training on the solar system operations and installations. The year 2021 witnessed a mushroom growth in adoption of net-metering facilities, where the concentration has been increased by more than one hundred-percent compared with the previous years, with the cumulative added capacity of more than 300MW.

While the grid-tied solar systems are required to export the energy units to the distribution utility and hence act as the power source in the vicinity of the load centers, several technical codes, quality assurances, procedural compliances and operational regulations have been defined by National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) for which, Alternative Energy Development Authority (AEDB), and the Ministry of Energy have also defined detailed guidelines for the grid connectivity to certify the solar vendors for solar system installations to only allow standardized installations .

With high profitability of businesses associated with solar systems however, the indication of malpractices and overlook of regulations has appeared to increase manifold, potentially posing considerable threats to an ambitious transition towards renewable energy at the grass-root level of the society in Pakistan.

The report also highlights that the electricity consumers have the unchecked tendency to go towards ‘less expensive’, quality-compromised solar systems, provided by a number of solar vendors to earn high profits unethically, eluding compliances of the technical and procedural regulations. Since the distribution utility is required to inspect the solar systems before interconnection, the resource and manpower available with the DISCOs are insufficient, which gives way to malpractices and bribe culture in this regard.

AEDB certifies solar vendors to ensure best-practices and have well-defined procedures and guidelines for the import of solar associated products, yet some of the solar vendors do not abide by them. The tendency of selling of the certification credentials by certified solar vendors and complete outsourcing of the solar system installation is on rise, whereas the quality non-compliant, inadequately interconnected, dangerously mounted and unregulated solar installations are also making space. On the other hand, quality non-compliant solar panels are also being imported due to legal and regulatory lacunas.

The report concludes with the recommendations to initiate the mechanism of technical inspection from the third-party companies, revival of Solar Quality Passport, digitalization of the application process, enhancement of capacity building of DISCOs and solar vendors, and transition towards smart metering infrastructure based on internet of things (IOT), in order to ensure that solar system installations in the country are done in line with standardized procedures and predefined guidelines.