Crops can be grown profitably at solar power plants in India, Headway Solar study reveals

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.

which crops to grow with solar power plants?

which crops to grow with solar power plants?

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.

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BJP government’s budget sets the tone for promotion of solar power in India

The financial budget 2014-15 presented by the new BJP-led government in India seems to be better for the solar sector than the interim budget presented by the outgoing Congress led government.

The finance minister has strengthened Modi government’s focus on clean energy by announcing that the cess on coal to finance clean energy would be doubled from INR 50 per tonne. The cess, introduced in the 2010 budget, collected about Rs. 25 billion in its first year. A bigger Clean Energy Fund (CEF) would certainly boost adoption of renewable energy, and it would drive various segments of solar market into the next gear.

Modi government has demonstrated its commitment to promote domestic manufacturing in solar power sector by exempting duties on raw material. Previously, though no import duties were levied on importing finished solar modules, importing raw material (such as EVA sheets, back sheets, ribbons, etc.) was taxed, putting Indian module assembling units at a disadvantage through this ‘inverted duty’ structure. Now, the exemption of duties on the raw material has been made in sync with the exemption on finished modules.

The government also plans to push public sector oil majors such as Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum to invest into solar power in India.

Arun Jaitley, the finance minister, announced that it would carry forward the allocations under next phase of the National Solar Mission, the 100,000 solar water pumps scheme. It makes a lot of sense since agricultural electricity consumers constitute one fourth of the pie, but their contribution to the total national power bill is in single digits (~ 7%). Promoting solar will reduce thefiscal burden on the government, while holding true its promise to provide electricity for longer duration.   

While a few industry stakeholders were expecting the government to nudge banking institutions to grant ‘priority’ status to lending to solar power sector, the news didn’t come through.

One of the drawbacks is, like the previous government, even this government hasn’t laid any significant emphasis on distributed generation of solar power, which holds the promise to bring a large section of 300m rural Indians out of the darkness. China, for example, plans to build 8GW of distributed solar generation as a part of its 14GW target for 2014. We hope that the Indian government will make due mid-term course correction with regards to more distributed generation in the country.

Another drawback is, the government has bought the ‘ultra-mega’ solar power plants (INR 5 bn have been allocated towards these) idea without understanding the implications and feasibility in detail.

Overall, the budget has shown the right intentions of the government and set the right tone for the advancement of the solar market in India, and we expect bolder decisions from the Modi government in the days to come.

Contact raveesh@headwaysolar.com for more details.

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Delhi Metro expands its solar power capacity

Solar power on Delhi Metro

Delhi metro adopts rooftop solar

After the first rooftop solar installation of Delhi Metro was inaugurated on June 15, 2014 at Dwarka Sector 21 metro station, Delhi Metro has announced plans to install 3 more photovoltaic plants. The three sites marked for the cumulative 250kW capacity are Anand Vihar ISBT and Pragati Maidaan metro stations, and DMRC’s residential complex at Pushp Vihar. Jakson Engineers will install the photovoltaic plant and DMRC will purchase the generated solar power under a power purchase agreement approved by Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI).

Delhi Metro is the first rail based system in the world to get carbon credits for reducing Greenhouse gas emissions.

 

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Power outages in Gurgaon lead to interest in solar energy

Unreliable power in Gurgaon, Haryana has forced people to contemplate solar photovoltaic installations on the rooftops as the obvious option.

Gurgaon railway station has already installed a 25kW PV plant on the rooftop and the officials are thinking of increasing the capacity.

Om Shanti retreat near Bilaspur Chowk, which can host approx. 500 guests at a time, has installed a 450kW solar power plant. Private farm houses are also considering installing rooftop solar power plants.

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Solar panels can get cheaper and environment-friendly

Magnesium chloride used in making Tofu and bath salts can be used to replace the highly toxic and expensive substance, Cadmium chloride a University study published in the journal Nature has revealed.

panel

Cadmium chloride is currently a key ingredient in solar cell technology used in millions of solar panels around the world. This soluble compound is highly toxic and expensive to produce, requiring elaborate safety measures to protect workers during manufacture and then specialist disposal when panels are no longer needed. Now, a University of Liverpool researcher has found that it can be replaced with magnesium chloride, which is extracted from seawater and is already used in products such as tofu, bath salts and for de-icing roads.

Read more here

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