NEW DELHI: Oil companies betting big on solar energy doesn’t sound ironic any more. Setting up solar power plants is not a token of commitment to the environment. Instead, it is making business sense as rising cost of running petrol pumps eat into dealer income.
No wonder India’s state-run fuel retailers are persuading petrol pump owners to go green by setting up solar power units. Experiments by IndianOil, the country’s largest fuel retailer, in 2015 showed running outlets on solar power costs less than burning diesel in generators to keep pumps running, especially in the hinterland.
Since then, IndianOil, which holds sway over nearly half of India’s fuel retail market, has been driving its dealers to switch to green power by arranging easy loans through a tieup with SBI and other assistance. Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum, too, have joined the bandwagon but have been slower.
“Solarisation of petrol pumps is part of IndianOil’s green commitment. Our target is to run 100% retail outlets on solar power in the next two years. The focus will be on rural areas where we have Kisan Seva Kendras (low-cost, stripped-down versions of petrol pumps),” IndianOil chairman Sanjiv Singh told TOI.
“A solar plant not only ensures continuous power but it ensures quality power and prevents equipment (at outlets) from tripping due to supply interruptions or (voltage) fluctuation. Pollution from generators is also checked,” Singh said.
All these result in uninterrupted operation and no loss of sales. Depending upon the size of the petrol pump, a 24 kw (kilo watt) rooftop photovoltaic system can reduce costs by more than Rs 7 lakh a year. This is nearly 50% less than the average annual electricity bill, based on commercial rates that are higher than domestic tariffs, for grid supply. There are other benefits too such as accelerated depreciation.
Power supply from the grid in rural areas and the hinterland still remain patchy and also suffer from low, high or fluctuating voltage. Petrol pump owners in these areas depend on generators, which pushes up running cost and eats into dealer margin.