Lucknow's reputed King George Medical University (KGMU) is grappling with a monthly bill of Rs 5 crore, putting a strain on its finances. Despite the claims that the medical university would be powered by solar energy, only 20 per cent progress has been made on solar initiatives, including the incomplete solar kitchen. Seven years ago, the project to run the university's kitchen on solar energy began, but currently, solar panels cover only twenty percent of the institute area. The annual electricity bill amounts to nearly sixty crores. It is also surprising that the five-year contract for maintaining the installed solar panels has not been renewed yet.
Both the central and state governments are striving to increase renewable energy in the country and the state, a necessity in line with India's goals established at the United Nations' Paris International Climate Conference in 2015. The Uttar Pradesh government, emphasising renewable energy, has set ambitious targets under its Solar Energy Policy-2022. However, the project to boost solar energy at KGMU in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, is progressing at a sluggish pace.
The facts revealed in the reporter's investigation indicate that both the KGMU administration and the state government need to seriously address this issue. Despite government policies and claims, KGMU still bears a monthly electricity bill of up to Rs 5 crore, with only 20 percent completion of the rooftop solar system installation.
Asia's largest hospital: KGMU
King George's Medical University (KGMU) is dedicated to medical studies, necessitating the presence of a hospital. KGMU stands as Asia's largest hospital based on bed capacity, boasting over 4000 beds, which are consistently occupied. Owing to limited medical facilities in eastern UP, patients flock not only from Lucknow and neighboring districts but also from Purvanchal. KGMU witnesses a daily influx of approximately eight to 10 thousand patients in its Outpatient Department (OPD).
Solar kitchen not fully functional even after 7 years
Currently, even the kitchen at KGMU is not entirely solar-based. The total monthly electricity bill for KGMU amounts to around Rs 5 crore. The original plan aimed to implement solar energy throughout KGMU, but presently, the kitchen work remains incomplete. Seven years ago, the initiative to shift the kitchen, responsible for preparing daily meals for approximately two thousand patients, to solar power began under the tenure of Vice Chancellor Prof Ravikant.
Chief PRO of KGMU, Dr. Sudhir Singh, explained, "Solar panels with a capacity of about 1370 KV have been installed on the roofs of King George Medical University, accounting for only 20 per cent coverage. Additionally, solar panels are currently being installed in the remaining 80 per cent vacant area." However, the reporter's investigation revealed that the kitchen still relies on LPG. In 2016, then Vice Chancellor Professor Ravikant announced the construction of a new solar-equipped kitchen on the seventh floor of the Shatabdi Phase-2 building.
Dr. Sudhir Singh added, "Currently, only one time meal can be cooked there, depending largely on the weather, and it is not fully functional yet." Dr. MK Manar, overseeing Environmental Health at KGMU, stated that ongoing efforts aim to equip KGMU with solar power. Recently, KGMU entered into an agreement with OMC Power for a 1 MW solar project.
It's worth noting that last July, Deputy Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Government and Cabinet Minister of Medical Education, Medical and Health, and Family Welfare, Brajesh Pathak, mentioned during a program at KGMU that the institution's monthly electricity consumption reaches up to Rs 5 crore. KGMU has to settle commercial electricity bills, and currently, 75 per cent of the institute's roof remains vacant.
What does UPNEDA have to say?
IAS Anupam Shukla, Director of the Uttar Pradesh New and Renewable Energy Development Agency (UPNEDA), stated that KGMU's total electricity consumption is 10 MW. He mentioned ongoing discussions with the KGMU management regarding the installation of solar panels on 80 per cent of the vacant spaces within KGMU. A final decision will be reached once these discussions conclude. Shukla added that, following finalisation, a solar facility could be made available through open access on the remaining space at KGMU.
Since UPNEDA was assigned the responsibility seven years ago to transition KGMU's kitchen to a solar system, the Director, Anupam Shukla, explained, "Its Annual Maintenance Contract (AMC period) has already ended. Now, funds will need to be secured again for a new five-year AMC." This makes it clear that the delay in completely shifting KGMU's kitchen to solar power is due to a lack of funds.
What is AMC?
AMC (Annual Maintenance Contract) term in the context of solar panel installation is a service agreement that you have with the organisation or company that instals the solar panels. This usually lasts for a certain number of years after your solar panels are installed. Usually this period is between one to five years. During this time the solar panel company takes care of the maintenance and servicing of your solar panel system. This includes tasks such as cleaning, fixing any problems, and ensuring the panels operate efficiently. The goal is to have your solar panels work well so that you can generate electricity from the sun without any problems.
What are the challenges?
Ashish Awasthi, a solar energy expert with extensive experience in the solar industry in Dubai, and now working as an independent consultant with solar solution firms in India, outlines the significant challenges of maintaining effective solar panels. According to Ashish, "In fast-growing Indian solar farms, weekly cleaning is necessary to prevent a 17-25 per cent drop in energy production. The methods currently in use are not practical, for example, high water demand. The water requirement ranges from 3-4 liters per panel in normal areas to 7-8 liters in dry areas, which in itself poses an environmental problem. A 1 MW solar farm requires 24,000 liters of water for cleaning."
KGMU can become an example
If the goal of running the entire KGMU on solar energy is achieved, then this institute can become a model for other government and non-government institutes of the country and the state. What is needed is that the KGMU administration and government become serious about this. If this happens, it will be a meaningful step towards stopping global warming.
(This content was developed and produced under an arrangement with Internews’ Earth Journalism Network.)