How do we simultaneously and innovatively tackle India’s three biggest problems of food, water and energy insecurity? Headway Solar, a solar energy consulting firm based in Delhi, India, believes that a partial answer lies in the co-location of utility-scale solar power plants with agricultural activities. ‘In India, the second most populous country, the inherent competition between land-intense activities like solar energy generation and crop cultivation for allocation of land resource is going to get more severe. Co-location is a small but significant step towards dealing with this issue in a sustainable manner’, says Raveesh Budania, Partner at Headway Solar.
Simply put, co-location is the process of utilizing the land under the solar panels for agricultural activities. The water used to keep the solar panels dust-free, for maximum operating efficiency, can be channelled effectively and used for growing specific plants. Such methods also lend to dealing with the grave issue of water scarcity. The study results, shared in form of an infographic, highlight that plants like aloe vera, cabbage and many traditional indigenous plants, for which water and labour intensity is low, can be very good candidates for co-location projects.
According to Headway Solar’s analysis, even if half of the PV installations projected by 2017 adopted co-location in India, about 11,200 hectares of land would be brought under cultivation with an addition of 27,000 agriculture and project-related jobs and result in an estimated increase of 2-9% in project revenues.
Co-location may come with its own set of challenges though. Costs related to structural modifications and maintenance may increase and personnel accessing the co-location site might be exposed to security risk. Ambiguity that may arise from using the same land for energy and agricultural activities in terms of applicable regulations. These challenges, however, are definitely not showstoppers, according to Headway Solar.
So what is needed to push this idea forward? ‘Though our efforts has just scratched the surface, we need more research to study co-location opportunities to take this to a scalable level. Additionally, various players in the solar market – EPC, financiers, consultants, developers, etc. – should be made aware of these opportunities to create a pull in the market. The government should also take part in this actively, and make co-location friendly regulations and aid the set-up of model solar plants to exemplify the concept.’ adds Raveesh.
It’s a win-win situation from all perspectives – sustainable utilisation of water and land resources, increase in cultivation of crops and generation of cheaper clean energy. The results of the study can be downloaded here.