The availability of a large area of land is a prerequisite to the installation of solar panels. In order to generate 1MW of power, the area of land required could be between 2.5 acres and 4 acres. This implies that purely investing in solar farms filled with hundreds or maybe thousands of solar panels instead of crops will have a serious impact on the agricultural output which the land could have produced. On the other hand, focusing on traditional farming alone can be relatively risky given its dependence on weather conditions and other externalities. This raises a dilemma since we need land to feed our ever-growing population and also satisfy their energy needs. Agrivoltaics can be seen as a plausible solution that can make the production of both photovoltaic power and agricultural crops lucrative. This not only increases the total productivity of land but is of economic benefit to the farmers. One example of this is the Cochin International Airport, where this idea has been implemented. The vegetables are grown organically and are co-located with solar panels.
Since this concept is still at a nascent stage, CAG organised this webinar on 22nd Nov, to have a discussion on opportunities and challenges for agrivoltaics in India along with relevant policies for the same. The panel consisted of eminent speakers, Mr Amit Kumar who retired as Senior Director of TERI, Mr Subramaniyam Pulipaka who is the youngest CEO of NSEFI and Mr Jose Thomas who is the Executive Director of CIAL.
Key Discussion Points
Overview of Agrivoltaics in India and existing policies, by Mr Subramaniyam Pulipaka, CEO National Solar Energy Federation of India
- NSEFI works closely with Indo-German Energy Forum (IGEF).
- The joint report of NSEFI and IGEF outlines policy recommendations to the Indian government.
- India has a crystal clear land use classification.
- There are 17 agrivoltaics plants in India
- In India, we perceive agrivoltaics in 3 ways.
- Plants grown in between the rows of the panels
- Farming below the panels
- Farming below elevated structure
- He also gave an introduction to various agrivoltaics plants in India
- More pilot projects are required to prove the trade-off between the extra cost incurred for facilitating agriculture below the solar panels and the resulting revenue from the cultivation.
- Miscordination between stakeholders frequently compromises the efficiency of agrivoltaic plants.
According to Mr Subramaniyam Pulipakka “If 1% of total arable land is used for agri PV, then 895 GW of power can be produced”. The major concern is land classification and financial incentives.
Practical experience in implementation by Mr Jose Thomas, Executive Director CIAL
- Cochin International Airport Ltd (CIAL) is the first greenfield airport in India under the PPP model.
- In 2012, Kerala State Electricity Board increased power tariff from Rs. 4/unit to Rs. 7/unit.
- CIAL started with a pilot solar plant on the rooftop.
- The Major 12 MWp plant was completed on 18th Aug 2015, with a total investment of Rs. 62 crore.
- This made CIAL the first airport in the world to be fully powered by solar.
- Now installed capacity is above 50 MWp.
- 450 kWp floating solar has been installed in the CIAL golf course.
- They started in an area of 4 acres in 2015, vegetable cultivation has increased to about 20 acres now.
- It will be spread to the entire solar plant area of 45 acres by 2023.
- It provides regular employment to 12 people per day.
- 30%-35% area is used for ginger. Rest is used for pumpkin, chilly, yam, ash gourd, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.
- Drip irrigation and mulching are done to save water.
- The total harvest of pesticide-free vegetables crossed 80 metric tonnes last year.
- Local agriculture officers visit the area regularly.
Mr Jose Thomas said that “Growing vegetables cool the panels and water used for cleaning panels is used for irrigation”. Thus, agrivoltaics create food-energy-water nexus.
Effect on agriculture, policies for large scale implementation by Mr Amit Kumar, Senior Director (Retd.), Social Transformation at The Energy and Resources Institute
- PV panels in agrivoltaics systems act as windbreakers, it can reduce wind erosion of soil.
- With optimum tracking, sufficient sunlight can be provided.
- Worldwide 3 GW of agrivoltaics has been installed.
- The application of PV panels can increase water runoff. This can lead to non-uniform water distribution in the field.
- Agrivoltaics affects the microclimate of the farm.
- In certain stages of the crop cycle, due to shading, crop yield may be affected.
- The benefit is that the loss of water due to transpiration is reduced leading to reduced irrigation requirements.
- It is difficult to bring changes suddenly in the farming sector.
- Agriculture universities, state agricultural departments and farmers have to be involved as agrivoltaics is an interdisciplinary domain.
- The central government can initiate a national program in consultation with the state.
Mr Amit Kumar insisted “Demonstration farms have to be set up to convince farmers to take up this method. Unless they are convinced, adoption is difficult”
There were around 23 participants and the discussion ended with an interactive Q and A session. The questions ranged from quantifying the electricity generation after growing plants below the panels to policy-level initiatives.