If you remember, I recently posted that I cannot add any more solar panels given my current setup. You might also recall that I have a lone 320 W solar panel. Surely that cannot generate enough power to reduce my electricity bill to zero. Yet, my latest electricity bill is exactly zero. Thats what happens when you mix politics with lifestyle. Some of you might understand what I am talking about. For others, here is the clue – Gruha Jyothi scheme. Unless you like reading about politics, or belong to Karnataka, one of the southern states of India, you might not know what I am talking about. Let me explain.

Basically, one of the schemes mentioned in the election manifesto of the Congress party was free electricity to all households consuming 200 units or less. Well there are a few more freebies including free bus rides throughout the state for all female residents etc. I will get to that in a minute too. The hope with the manifesto was to make it look more prosocialist when compared to the more right winged approach of BJP which has a stronghold in Karnataka. That seems to have helped Congress in the recent elections in Karnataka. As soon as they got into power, they approved the bill to give free electricity to consumers using 200 units or less electricity. Sorry, I don’t like to talk politics on my blog, but I had to give that intro. This will be the last you will hear of it.

Now, coming to the scheme, if your average electricity consumption is below 200 units, your electricity bill will be zero. There are a bunch of eligibility requirements, all of which apply to me including such things as being a resident of Karnataka, having only one domestic electric connection etc. But how will I know what my average electricity bill for the last 1 year is? Well, in the world of finance, cash is the king, in the world of technology, data is the king. Just imagine how much data AI consumes. See how I snuck in the word AI? I had to because it seems to be all the rage these days.

Anyway going back to the topic, I have all the data regarding the number of units consumed, how much the electricity department has been charging for each slab etc for the past 8 years. So I can answer the question about my average electricity usage for the period of July 2022 to June 2023 is 178 units. Congratulations! I am eligible for the scheme. So I decided to apply for it to see if my application really gets accepted. While I got an acknowledgement that my application has been successfully submitted, I never got any intimation whether it is approved or not. So I just had to play the waiting game until my electricity bill arrived. Lo and behold, the bill is zero. No need to pay absolutely anything. That was a pleasant surprise!

Glimpse of how I track my power usage (click to enlarge)

So what is the relationship between solar panels and zero electricity bill you ask? Well you have to understand that my average electricity bill is below 200 units only because I have installed a solar panel. You also have to realize that the timing was impeccable. Our average consumption before installing the solar panel in 2021 was around 235 units. The main reason I wanted to install the solar panel was to reduce my grid consumption to below 200 units because as I explained in one of my previous posts, the per unit cost after 200 units is very high at Rs. 8.20/unit. If I had delayed installing the panel for a year, I could have missed the scheme. So, yeah, luck had a huge role to play in it. Ask Naseeb Taleb if you are in doubt.

I was also lucky in the sense that I did not go overboard and install too many panels. Again, my reasoning was to tackle the financial aspect. There is no point reducing my grid consumption to much below 200 units, because my investment would take much longer to breakeven. The reason is that I will be saving much less below 200 units for the same cost of installing another panel. I don’t particularly believe that solar panels are any more environmentally friendly than traditional power (same for EVs). For all we know we may be polluting the planet more in the process of manufacturing the panels and batteries that store energy. We just don’t know it yet, only future will tell us. Nobody thought coal power plants were bad for the planet when they were invented.

So the only time I will buy too many solar panels is when I want to be completely off the grid (sustainable living) because I don’t want to depend on some government/business controlled energy source. At that point, I don’t even want an energy meter. Someday may be. The point I am trying to make is that again as luck would have it, I installed a solar panel that would just keep me below 200 units and that was the cut off given by the newly elected government. No one should ever depend on luck of course, and what comes for free might go one day (or after the next election). Most likely the ESCOMs (Electricity Supply Companies) may not be able to bear the losses and this scheme might be watered down or cancelled altogether in the future.

Another stroke of luck was that the slab rates have been done away with and now everyone has to pay a flat rate of Rs. 7/unit going forward. The scheme and flat rates coincided. If not for the slab rates, I might have added more panels. While I am talking about so many lucky events happening at the same time, you have read about multiple unfortunate events happening simultaneously too. Of course, there are a lot more good and bad events in my life that I did not write about. But the point is, that is what life is all about. Sometimes things go your way and other times they don’t. You just have to be neutral about it, whichever epistemology you subscribe to (stoic, buddhist, advaita vedanta or what have you).

Here is the kicker though, the scheme is only applicable if your power consumption is with in 10% of the average. Since my average was 178 units, if in any month my electricity bill is over 196 units (110% of 178), I have to pay the full bill. No discounts. There were 5 months during the last year when my bills were over that. It could be during summers, or when it is cloudy, or when we have more family members visiting. So I might get the benefits of the scheme only 50% of the time perhaps. Still, I will take it :). While I don’t like to count my eggs before they hatch, I still thought it would be a fun exercise to see how long it will take for me to breakeven using the new data.

Assuming my average consumption would be around 170 units, I will be saving about Rs. 2,000 per month. Since I can only take the benefit for 6 months in a year (because I will go over 196 units for the rest), I can expect to save around Rs. 12,000 in one year. Given that I might have already saved Rs. 3,000 since I installed the panel 2 years ago, I would say I will get back my investment of Rs. 15,000 in about 3 years or less. Again, this is counting the eggs too soon. Let’s just stick with the 5 years breakeven number that was calculated earlier.

While I can’t say whether the scheme is good or bad, it might actually encourage more people to reduce their consumption if they are near the borderline 200 units so they can avail the scheme. Alternatively, it could encourage people to reduce power draw from grid by installing green energies like solar panels. Either way, I hope it helps the country. One small point about another scheme that my wife and kid use is the free bus travel within Karnataka. I’ve stopped using public transport (bus, train, metro) a long time ago (I know, shame on me), but my wife and kid use it once in a while (to put it politely, rarely to be more accurate). Perhaps they will consider more bus travel now that it is free :), which again could be a good thing for the environment. Or will they cause more pollution by traveling even when not required because it is free? Who knows? There almost is never one right answer. It is more of a spectrum. Go figure.