Bugs and Glitches in National Portal Slow Down Rooftop Solar Installations

The portal's downtime has coincided with the peak season for installations

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Summer is the peak season for Surendra Chaudhary, a rooftop solar installer in Jaipur, Rajasthan, known for temperatures that routinely cross 40° C, leading to cooling needs that push up electricity bills. But business has been faltering as the National Portal, which serves as a platform to commission residential solar systems, is marred by bugs and glitches.

During the previous year’s peak season, Chaudhary’s firm Solar Planet raked in ₹4 million (~$48,000) to ₹5 million (~$60,000) a month. Business is now a trickle, bringing a mere ₹300,000 (~$3,600) to ₹400,000 (~$4,800) a month. “Customers have lost faith in us because it is impossible to do anything on the portal,” he said, adding that there are new bugs every step of the way.

The National Portal, launched by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), is used for everything from registration, uploading feasibility documents and project completion reports to applying for subsidy. The portal’s instability and user-unfriendliness have caused a backlog of thousands of pending requests, leaving installers and customers frustrated.

MNRE had said vendors must register on the National Portal to be eligible to install rooftop solar projects under the PM Surya Ghar: Muft Bijli Yojana rooftop solar program. With an outlay of ₹750 billion (~$9.04 billion), the program aims to increase residential rooftop solar capacity and empower households to generate electricity until 2026-27. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had set a goal of installing rooftop solar projects in 10 million households.

According to several solar installation companies Mercom spoke to, the MNRE portal has been down for over a month, making it difficult to track the progress of applications or obtain approvals.

“We are not able to track the progress of applications. Feasibility approvals from the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) side are also lagging,” lamented Soura Energy, an installer in Kerala. “We have installed hardly 1 MW in the first quarter of 2024, and installations in the second quarter are lagging due to portal issues.”

The portal’s downtime has coincided with the peak installation season, causing significant delays and financial losses for the industry. “We missed our peak installation months already, and now the rains are here, and everything is on hold,” rued Tharayil Power, another installer from Kerala, adding that around 7,000 feasibility requests are pending approval from the DISCOM.

Meanwhile, Hrishikesh Aggarwal of Raamesht Projects from Rajasthan said he used to commission 120 kW of projects a month. “It has now fallen to zero. Many customers have been asking us to return their money as the process is not moving forward.” His repeated emails to the government agencies were unanswered.

“Vendors are facing issues ranging from receiving ‘one-time passwords,’ uploading documents, username and password being unrecognized, incomplete data on the portal, lack of data from distribution company’s (DISCOM) subdivision,” said Ajay Yadav, President of Renewable Energy Association of Rajasthan (REAR), adding that “even the DISCOMs are unable to log in from their side.”

Delays in completing the process and returning subsidies to customers erode their trust in vendors. “Customers are saying you are lying because the website appears live. But the problems occur when you try to go through various processes,” said Yadav.

“We have talked to many developers and vendors, and they all say they are getting stuck in one stage or another. At least 2,000 to 3,000 customers have stopped the process out of frustration.”

Installers have been forced to intentionally slow down their operations under the government subsidy scheme, as they cannot risk the eligibility of customers for subsidies without proper registration on the portal. “If we register through the portal and haven’t done feasibility through their application, that installation will be considered a private project, and we can’t claim a subsidy for that,” explained Wattsun, another installer. “These issues are gradually decreasing the pace of the solar capacity additions in Kerala.”

The portal has also been a major source of frustration for KSEB officials, who are frustrated by the convoluted process. “One has to go through the national portal first, then it will redirect to the DISCOM portal, again back to the national portal, and these steps have to be repeated many times to complete one application,” said a senior KSEB official on the condition of anonymity.

“The portal is not stable because people are trying to access it across the country simultaneously,” the official said. The backlog of pending feasibility requests has left KSEB officials unable to access and redirect applications to respective section offices, further exacerbating the delays.

Meanwhile, sources in REC, the company commissioned by MNRE to ensure the portal’s smooth functioning, told Mercom that they have been constantly in touch with vendors to resolve their issues. They acknowledged that the glitches arose primarily because the portal was being shifted to better servers.

The portal’s failures have hurt solar installers and left customers in limbo, unable to apply for bank loans or claim subsidies under the PM Surya Ghar Yojana.

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