Many industries like Mining, Power, Infrastructure, Manufacturing etc…compete to get land for businesses & otherwise. Agriculture is a priority sector when it comes to usage of land, but with demand increasing at a faster pace to massive urbanization, diversion of agriculture land into commercial land for non-agriculture related deployment has become rampant. As a result land is increasingly becoming a scarce resource in India and per capita land availability is low, making availability of land a big challenge for the times to come. In order to ease farm land availability for other sector, Land Acquisition bill is formulated and is yet to be passed. Land is a political and social issue in India and has seen instances like Tata Motor’s Singur project uprooted because of political upheaval related to agriculture land, such instances are unlikely to be one off and likely to emerge more often than been single instance in the near future. In light of the same, JNNSM program of 22 GW by 2022, of which large component is utility scale ground mounted project seems to be a challenging proposition. Dedication of land area for exclusive installation of solar panels might have to compete with other sector for its land requirement. The amount of land required for utility‐scale solar power plants is about 4-5 acres (one acre is almost equal to size of a football field) for every MW project which adds further strain on India's available land resource, almost twice of that taken by Thermal Power plants but better off compared to 50-60 acres per MW required by wind power project. No wonder wind projects in India have slowed down may be for better as it is already the most mature technology and form major portion of India renewable portfolio. If wind power has to grow at the same speed, land availability will be a bigger challenge. However, deploying land available under huge wind farms for solar pv could be ideal model to leverage the spare land available under the turbine wherever possible. So what exactly is the way ahead for solar power to continue its momentum, but in a sustainable manner?
The architecture of India’s land mass and its utility by different industry makes highly‐distributed set of individual rooftop power generation systems, all connected via a local grid a more sustainable and scalable model which has potential to accommodate much more than the capacity anticipated to be added under JNNSM. However, erecting such an infrastructure, which does not enjoy the economies of scale possible in mass, utility‐scale, solar panel deployment, needs the market price of solar-technology deployment to substantially decline, so that it attracts the individual and average family size household consumer. That might be possible in the future, because PV is projected to continue its current cost reductions for the next decades and be able to compete with fossil fuel. The JNNSM in its earlier announced version almost had undertone to solar rooftop and many analyst and industry experts didn’t envisage solar rooftop becoming a phenomenon or even feasible / viable in India. However, over just less than 2 years since its announcement, solar rooftop seems to have taken center stage. States / MNRE are evaluating all possible models to accelerate penetration of solar rooftop. Almost every other state in India has announced RFS for solar rooftop, with some states like Andhra Pradesh even mulling over policy to pay roof top solar owners to pay for extra power injected by such systems into the grid. Hence if the sector has to grow in true sustainable model it has to explore innovative models that to some extent are yet not seen by critical stakeholder in the solar industry. So what are the innovative avenues available?
BIPV, Rooftop, Solar – Wind Hybrid Project, Renewable Island are some of the options available. For example, World's first canal-top 1 MW solar project on Narmada branch canal network in Gujarat, developed by US based Sun Edison is an example of how to leverage potential of solar energy without imposing significant strain on land availability. The power plant which is located at Chandrasan village near Mehsana, 45 kms from Ahmedabad is estimated to generate 1.6 million units of electricity per year. The fact that the panels are built over the canal ensure that around 9 million litres of water does not evaporate. The entire length of SSNL canal network in Gujarat is around 19,000 KMs. Even if 10 per cent of it is used for this type of projects it could generate 2,400 MW of clean energy annually. The project will eliminate the need of 11,000 acres of land required for a solar project of this magnitude and save 2 billion litres of water annually. Another option is BIPV, though the concept is new and at a very nascent stage in India, the same can be leveraged for all upcoming building projects, if not all atleast the high end residential and commercial buildings. BIPV model is increasingly being used in buildings as a principal or alternate source of electricity. Moreover, there are buildings, which not only source power for internal use, but also feed electricity to the grid. BIPV is part of the PV industry, but due to their possible usage as building products, they are also seen as part of the ‘green building’ movement. In developed economies, the BIPV system is interfaced with the available utility grid; BIPV may also be used in standalone, off-grid systems, and are cost-effective. In India, Tata BP Solar and institutions like West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency are leading the BIPV initiative by extending complete design, supply, installation, commissioning and maintenance of BIPV systems. Tata BP solar has executed the largest BIPV projects in India at Samudra Institute of Maritime Studies.
InfraInsights is of the view that true sustainable development is possible only when renewable technologies are leveraged fully for meeting all aspects of sustainable development. Taking cue from this initiative every state government should first find alternative land parcel or land parcel which are not irrigable for agriculture etc…before handing over irrigable & fertile piece of land which may not be balancing the economics & social nuances associated with growth.