Know How Solar Power Can Become a Catalyst for India's Next Agricultural Revolution
India's commendable achievement of surpassing 70,000 MW solar installed capacity in September 2023 propels it among the world's top five to reach this milestone. This highlights solar energy's pivotal role in shaping India's agriculture sector and its future, respectively.
India achieved an important milestone in September 2023 by surpassing 70,000 MW of solar installed capacity, ranking among the world's top five countries. While this achievement is commendable, the journey ahead is substantial.
The undeniable reality is that solar energy is poised to shape India's energy sector, catering to daytime electricity, peak hours with storage, electric mobility, and green hydrogen production. Projections paint a picture of reaching 1500 GW by 2050, with some studies even envisioning 5600 GW by 2070 to meet the Net Zero target. Consequently, the deployment strategy holds paramount importance.
Historically, the focus has predominantly been on large utility-scale solar projects in western India and parts of the southern peninsula, leveraging better solar radiation and seemingly barren land. The advantages of large-scale installations include lower generation costs and easier implementation by large companies, attracting substantial foreign investments. However, the increasing scarcity of land poses a challenge. A growing concern is the emerging division between producers and consumers, a crucial factor in a just transition away from coal.
The adaptability of solar energy, allowing generation anywhere and on various scales, facilitates the widespread proliferation of distributed solar systems. In its initial years, this strategy played a crucial role in bringing electricity to remote villages.
The mission's focus on solar rooftops persists. The shift toward distributed solar gained momentum with the 2018 KUSUM scheme, aimed at supporting Indian farmers' electricity needs through solar-powered off-grid and on-grid pumps. However, Agrivoltaics, the lesser-known component A of KUSUM, is yet to make substantial progress.
Agrivoltaics involves elevating solar plants 2-3 meters above the ground, allowing crop cultivation beneath or between panels, and avoiding land-solar conflicts seen in ground-mounted plants. Globally, including pilot projects in India, Agrivoltaics has shown potential to boost farmer incomes, agricultural production, and local employment. It converts rain-fed croplands into multiple-crop areas and boosts water conservation with enhanced groundwater retention, water harvesting, and drip irrigation.
Solar panels act as greenhouses, shielding crops from harsh weather. This approach also yields power benefits, enhances local power quality, and supports rural economic activities with solar-powered infrastructure.
Reconsidering tariff structures, and focusing on the lowest cost of supply at consumption points, is crucial. While Agrivoltaic plants may cost 10-15% more due to elevated structures, the lasting agricultural benefits outweigh this one-time expense. Initial tariffs of Rs 5/kWh for three years could incentivize installations, offering undeniable grid resilience and decongesting transmission infrastructure for Electricity distribution companies (DISCOMS) States.
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