India’s pressing need to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy would almost certainly spark a race to build massive green power facilities. This, in turn, would require a significant amount of land to accommodate massive solar panel arrays. In their haste to find a spot in the sun, alternative energy firms may engage in land acquisition, which may short change landowners and farmers on the outskirts of cities and urban clusters, as well as eat into the agricultural and wooded property.
Unless the process is controlled and supervised, India may find itself in a scenario similar to that of 1970s Mumbai, when unscrupulous realtors using mafia power forced ordinary people to sell their homes for pennies on the dollar. The towering apartment buildings that dominate the city’s suburban skyline were built on this area. Similar situations have occurred in other towns and cities when farmland has been converted into housing jungles.
That’s not everything. Environmental concerns may be swept aside in the name of green electricity to allow large lengths of solar panels, as has occurred with land takeovers to enable mining and industries. They may be able to create clean energy from the sun, but they are unable to produce food. They can’t even be used as a substitute for green cover.
How can we guarantee that the development of renewable energy projects is least invasive and makes the best use of land without causing environmental imbalances, given these concerns? The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) has released a study that suggests several ways to expand solar and wind projects. Some of them seem to be both rational and feasible, but they would require rigorous and comprehensive regulation, as well as the willingness to execute them.
Energy researcher Charles Worringham’s study, “Renewable energy and land usage in India by mid-century,” calculates the amount of land required if India intends to meet its net-zero goal by 2050. Solar could take up between 50,000 and 75,000 square kilometers of land, while wind might take up an additional 15,000 to 20,000 square kilometres of land, including space between turbines and other infrastructure, according to the report. According to the calculations, the quantity of land required for solar may be as much as 1.7-2.5 percent of the country’s entire landmass, or 2.2-3.3 percent of non-forested area.
Clearly, a large amount of land is needed. There had been suggestions that ‘wastelands’ or ‘zero impact regions’ might be utilised to build renewable energy parks. However, these proposals have sparked opposition from organisations and landowners who claim ownership of the property. The author mentions the Charanka solar park in Gujarat as well as farmers in Assam who are opposed to solar installation. Environmentalists have also pointed out that places labelled as “wastelands” maybe “fragile and home to distinct ecosystems.” These ‘Open Natural Ecosystems’ also provide vital fodder for the world’s 500 million cattle. The perpetual struggle between environmentalists and land seekers is unavoidable, and it is now occurring. The Supreme Court recently ordered that solar energy transmission lines in Rajasthan be buried to minimise the harm to the Great Indian Bustard, which is already endangered. This is still up for debate.
As a result, it’s critical to identify sites that maximize advantages while avoiding confrontation. And how does one go about doing that? Recognizing the issues ahead and addressing them via policy intervention is the best option. Developing clear environmental and social criteria for rating potential sites; comprehensive assessments and ranking of potential sites against these criteria in advance of tenders or project proposals; incentivizing the selection of the highest-ranked locations in tenders; limiting undue regional concentration and supporting w
Aside from that, it is critical that innovation plays a role in reducing land usage. Let’s have a look at the options: Solar may continue to be used on a growing number of roofs, including those of major public and private organisations. Corporate businesses could simply lease these roofs instead of purchasing property on the ground, and they could even search for artificial water bodies to build floating solar installations on. Wind energy may also experiment with rooftop solar (options are currently available) and offshore wind projects. Solar trees and solar canopies, for example, are low-land-use designs that may produce a lot of electricity.
The author also recommends promoting the ‘agrivoltaics’ industry. This includes assisting farmlands, which account for 60.4 percent of the country’s total surface area, in hosting both wind and solar installations. Wind turbines, as well as a variety of solar trees, may be readily installed in farms.
According to the study, India now has about 20 small-scale projects where solar panels are installed in different configurations over crops. They are found to sustain yields and decrease soil moisture loss under the appropriate circumstances. However, further study on this technique is needed to determine the best settings for various geographies and crops. Then, with the proper incentives, agriculture might bring in a lot more renewable energy without sacrificing valuable land. However, for any of this to work, politicians must have a strong desire to offer alternatives.