India’s vast expanses of farmland are fertile ground for a novel type of fruit—namely solar power—according to a recent report that offers agrivoltaics (solar panels installed on agricultural land) as a solution for a nation reckoning with significant energy demands in the coming decades.
“India has a much higher proportion of its land under farming than most countries, so there is plenty of scope to move beyond the experimental stage and see agrivoltaics really grow,” says Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) report author Dr. Charles Worringham.
According to the report [PDF], several factors make agrivoltaics well suited to India’s needs, including the country’s projected need for renewable energy and distributed infrastructure, the geographical characteristics of farmland coverage (60% of India’s land area is farmed, compared to a 39% world average), and agrivoltaics’ capacity to address the socio-economic challenges of farmers who live on the periphery of India’s grid on low and unreliable incomes. Agrivoltaic patterns are adaptable to diverse local needs, allowing for arrangements that both increase power generation and give better access to farm machinery.
“With nearly 20 projects under way using a variety of panel configurations, India has already started a research effort to establish what specific methods, crops, and conditions work best,” reports IEEFA.
Agrivoltaics can also help overcome some of India’s ongoing power supply challenges. The sector can hasten renewable energy adoption, while relieving impacts from building facilities on sensitive lands and ecosystems and nurturing a stronger, more diverse rural economy, writes IEEFA.
But pulling these factors together to help the sector flourish will depend on regulatory and policy changes. India should look to lessons from other countries where farmland was not protected, Worringham says, so that solar panels replaced, rather than complementing agricultural production as. “Measures to safeguard farming communities and agricultural production should be a key part of the policy and regulatory reforms that the sector needs.”
Along with financial incentives to cultivate the sector, he says a new agrivoltaic land use classification will be useful, as well, since “farmland must generally be reclassified for commercial use if it is to host any solar generation.”