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Powering food and profits: Agrivoltaics in India

How can agrivoltaics help achieve our sustainable development goals?

Artwork by Tanishk Katalkar

Agrivoltaics have emerged as a game changer in the agriculture and renewable energy sectors.

Combining the power of solar energy with traditional agricultural practices offers a promising path toward a greener future. Regarding embracing agrivoltaics, India stands at the forefront of this promising revolution with its vast agricultural landscape and untapped solar potential.


What are Agrivoltaics?

Agrivoltaics, derived from the words ‘agriculture’ and ‘photovoltaics’ - involves the dual use of agricultural land for cultivating crops and generating solar energy. Solar panels are mounted on stilts over agricultural land, in varying configurations to maximize land productivity. This combination forms a symbiotic relationship between the crops and solar panels that benefits the farmers and is a step towards sustainable development.


Agrivoltaics for Sustainable Development

Agrivoltaics can help achieve sustainable development by achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs) and making a significant impact on resource use and outputs in agriculture. The following SDGs are achieved through agrivoltaics:


SDG 1: No Poverty, stable, supplementary income sources for subsistence and large-scale farmers.

SDG 2: Zero Hunger, increase in agricultural productivity, and improvement of food security.

SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, by promoting the production of clean and affordable energy through solar power. By diversifying the energy mix and reducing reliance on fossil fuels, agrivoltaics helps mitigate climate change while ensuring access to sustainable energy sources.

SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth. This approach creates employment opportunities in rural areas, stimulating economic growth and offering decent work prospects for local communities.

SDG 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure by promoting the development of sustainable infrastructure. By integrating agricultural and energy systems, agrivoltaics optimizes land use and reduces the need for additional land for solar installations, fostering innovation and sustainable development in both sectors.

SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, agrivoltaics contribute by facilitating the creation of resilient and sustainable communities. Its decentralized nature enables energy production closer to consumption centers, reducing transmission losses and enhancing energy security for communities.

SDG 13: Climate Action by actively reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Through the utilization of solar energy and sustainable agricultural practices, agrivoltaics plays a crucial role in mitigating climate change and building resilience to its impacts.


Additionally, agrivoltaics affect the light saturation point of plants. Plants have a limit to how much sunlight they can handle. Beyond that limit, too much light can harm them and make them more thirsty. With agrivoltaics, the solar panels provide shade to the plants, protecting them from excessive sunlight. This helps keep them healthy and reduces their need for water. The shade from solar panels also helps conserve water. It prevents water from evaporating too quickly from the soil, which is important because water is a valuable resource for growing crops. The water used to clean the solar panels can be collected and used for irrigation, saving even more water.

Furthermore, panel efficiency is higher when plants are growing alongside PV cells. The plants create a cooler environment, which helps the solar panels operate more efficiently. This means they can generate more electricity from the same amount of sunlight. Interestingly, farmers who use agrivoltaics have noticed that certain crops, like leafy greens, can have higher yields. This is because the shade from the solar panels protects the plants from the harsh sun. The panels also act as a barrier against strong winds, reducing the chances of crop damage. The shade helps prevent the growth of unwanted weeds. Lastly, agrivoltaics also bring benefits to our energy system by promoting the decentralized production of clean energy. This means we don't have to rely as much on big power grids and can generate electricity closer to where it is needed, reducing transmission losses and reliance on distribution companies.


(Also Read: https://www.talkdhartitome.com/post/how-governance-barriers-are preventing-india-from-reaching-its-solar-energy-goal)



Need for Green Agriculture and Clean Energy

Current agricultural practices depend heavily on fossil fuels and chemical inputs that actively harm the foundation of the ecosystems that make agriculture possible. Hence, as we look for clean energy alternatives and meet nutritional demand for a growing population, it is imperative to find holistic solutions that are truly sustainable, economically and ecologically.

Economic Benefits

Agrivoltaics add an income stream to farmers through power generation and increase crop yields, which further stabilizes farmers’ financial stability. It reduces rural dependency on grid electricity which is often unreliable and lacks connectivity in rural areas, allowing rural people to use power generated on-site to meet their needs reliably and at low or no cost.

Social Benefits

Agrivoltaics can upskill rural communities and create employment in the installation and maintenance of equipment. The added income and reliable power also help to create other opportunities for these communities with reliable access to the internet.

Environmental Benefits

Agrivoltaics produce clean energy, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Also, the shade provided by the panels reduces water evaporation, conserving water resources and promoting sustainable agricultural practices.


The Landscape of Agrivoltaics in India

In India, agrivoltaics has gained momentum with the involvement of various stakeholders, including private organizations, research and development institutes, and public initiatives. The country has witnessed the establishment of research projects by renowned institutions such as CAZRI, NISE, Amity, and Junagadh University, each focusing on different aspects of agrivoltaics. CAZRI, for instance, concentrates on optimizing water use and studying arid zone crops,

while other projects have their distinctive areas of emphasis. These research endeavors aim to explore the potential benefits and challenges of integrating agriculture and solar energy.

The Government of India has also shown interest in the early stages of implementing agrivoltaics, particularly in Gujarat. Public projects in the region serve as pilot initiatives to assess the functionality of agrivoltaics. However, reports suggest that discrepancies in communication among stakeholders continue to impact productivity. Despite these challenges, private companies have taken a keen interest in agrivoltaics, providing insights into the financial viability of implementation. Notably, Cochin International Airport stands as a prominent example of successful private involvement in agrivoltaics. Being the world's first 'green airport,' it operates entirely on solar power and has a 20-acre agrivoltaic farm developed through India's first Public-Private Partnership with Bosch Energy and Building Solutions. These private initiatives demonstrate promising results, leading to a gradual increase in the scale of agrivoltaic implementation in India.


Barriers and Solutions for Implementation

Despite the promising potential of agrivoltaics, several challenges need to be addressed for its successful implementation. These gaps in the system - policy-based or financial - hinder the implementation of such technologies for most independent farmers.

The implementation of agrivoltaics faces several challenges in India. One major obstacle is the high initial investment required to set up solar plants, which poses a significant financial hurdle. Government aid through subsidies is necessary to overcome this barrier and facilitate the widespread adoption of agrivoltaics to ensure this technology is accessible to small independent farmers. In addition, poor planning and inadequate maintenance can hinder the efficiency of agrivoltaic systems. Appropriate maintenance systems/procedures, theft prevention measures, and well-thought-out layout planning are essential for maximizing the benefits of agrivoltaics.

Policy constraints also present a challenge for agrivoltaics in India. Existing policies, such as the Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (KUSUM) Scheme, provide a regulatory framework for the installation of solar projects in rural areas. While the KUSUM Scheme hints at the implementation of agrivoltaics, other laws, including the Land Revenue Code and Land Reforms Acts, restrict the use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. This limits the potential benefits and subsidies available for agrivoltaics, necessitating a

balance between farming and non-agricultural land usage. Furthermore, the lack of comprehensive documentation and research on agrivoltaic systems poses a challenge. Comprehensive documentation, including technical guidelines, operational protocols, and case studies, is crucial for knowledge dissemination and replication. Collaborative efforts among stakeholders are needed to fill the research gaps and provide a more unified approach to agrivoltaics.

Breaking away from mono-cropping practices is another significant consideration. Mono-cropping, which involves cultivating a single high-yield crop in a farm area, is common in India. However, exploring diverse crop choices suitable for agrivoltaic systems, in alignment with permaculture principles, is essential for maximizing the benefits and sustainability of these systems and ensuring food security.


(Also Read: https://www.talkdhartitome.com/post/time-for-a-perma-nent-culture change-in-india)


To overcome these challenges, there is a need for extensive and holistic research on various aspects of agrivoltaics. This includes identifying the right crops that will benefit most from agrivoltaic systems, assessing their financial viability, and developing strategies to adapt to different weather conditions. By addressing these challenges and investing in comprehensive research, India can unlock the full potential of agrivoltaics and foster a more sustainable agricultural and energy landscape. The following solutions can be considered as the way forward:

  1. Develop Roadmaps: Establish a systematic roadmap that includes determining system design parameters, conducting feasibility studies, and increasing the number of pilot projects across different agro-climatic regions.

  2. Financial Viability: Provide financial incentives, subsidies, and low-interest loans to encourage farmers and private entities to adopt agrivoltaic systems, thus reducing the initial investment burden.

  3. Regulation: Define clear terms, standards, and special provisions for agrivoltaics in existing renewable energy and agricultural policies to ensure smooth integration and encourage adoption.

  4. Nationwide Research: Promote extensive research on crop varieties suitable for agrivoltaics, assess the financial viability and scalability of agrivoltaic systems, and develop weather adaptation techniques through collaborations between research institutions, agricultural universities, and renewable energy agencies.

Agrivoltaics presents itself as a promising solution as a step towards sustainable development in rural India. By embracing this concept India can revolutionize its farming sector, alleviate its energy crisis, and emancipate farmers that are facing the effects of climate change which are likely to worsen over time.


References

National Solar Energy Federation of India. (October 2021). AgriPV in India: Potential, Opportunities, and Challenges. Retrieved from

https://tuewhttps://tuewas-asia.org/wp content/uploads/2021/10/20201212_NSEFI_on_AgriPV_in_India__1_.pdf as-asia.org/wpcontent/uploads/2021/10/20201212_NSEFI_on_AgriPV_in_India__1_.pdf

Jain, N. (January 2022,). Cochin International Airport: India's Champion in Sustainable Energy. The Economic Times. Retrieved from

Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Government of India. (n.d.). Agrivoltics: Integrating Solar Energy with Agriculture. Retrieved from

https://pmkusumhttps://pmkusum.mnre.gov.in/pdf/Agrivoltics.pdf .mnre.gov.in/pdf/Agrivoltics.pdf

Agrivoltaics. (n.d.). Retrieved from

International Institute for Sustainable Development. (May 2023). Agrivoltaics in India. Retrieved from


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