Agrivoltaics and solar irrigation play a crucial role in the distributed solar market because they benefit both farmers and the power sector supply chain. In May 2023, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) published two reports – “Agrivoltaics in India: Challenges and Opportunities for Scale-up” and “Implementing Solar Irrigation Sustainably: A Guidebook for State Policy-makers on implementing Decentralized Solar Power Plants through PM-KUSUM Components A and C (feeder-level solarization) with Maximum Social, Economic, and environmental benefits”. Renewable Watch presents key extracts from the reports…
According to the IISD, stakeholder consultations on agrivoltaics in India have highlighted some key points. One, agrivoltaics do not have a negative impact on crop yields, with some cases even witnessing an increase. However, it is important to note that pilots in India have only tested agrivoltaics with a limited variety of crops and agricultural settings. Therefore, better-designed pilot projects with rigorous testing methods are required to build a more comprehensive knowledge base for future implementation.
Two, technological innovation and testing of new business models that are tailored to the Indian context are imperative for the effective commercialisation of agrivoltaics.
Three, arid, semi-arid regions and peri-urban areas are likely to be favourable locations for agrivoltaics in the country. To promote the adoption of agrivoltaics in these areas, the government has to reform land-use and tax regulations as well as develop consistent standards and definitions. In addition, its wide-scale implementation would require government support and concessional green financing to incentivise and promote adoption.
Four, regarding tariff determination, the states need to think beyond the uniform ceiling tariff regime to effectively scale up agrivoltaics. To support new pilots in the short term, the government can consider providing incentives on a case-to-case basis. Market mechanisms can also be explored by developers to leverage the advantages of agrivoltaics.
Five, capacity building of farmers and developers is critical in this space. To this end, the states can facilitate training programmes for farmers and create a network of skilled professionals for developers. Given the diverse agroclimatic conditions in India, knowledge creation and testing should be decentralised.
The IISD’s report covers the key concerns of various stakeholders in the solar irrigation segment and their possible solutions. Seasonal fluctuations in agricultural load are a major challenge faced by discoms. The report suggests that the key to preventing upstream power flow during the non-irrigation season is optimal targeting and sizing of power plants. The sizing of a plant should take into consideration the baseload requirement of the substation. Another challenge in the implementation of agrivoltaics is their higher costs as compared to utility-scale solar plants. It should be noted that while utility-scale solar plants provide cheaper power, their growth is subject to inherent limitations. Hence, decentralised power plants for agricultural use can complement the renewable energy sector effectively. The impact on daily load management is another concern. As the share of solar power in the grid increases, shifting the agricultural load to the daytime becomes the most cost-effective approach to load management. States can utilise initiatives such as PM-KUSUM to strategically plan the long-term transition of agricultural power.
Excess contracted capacity is another significant concern for agrivoltaics. Cost-benefit studies show that even if it takes a few years for the demand to surpass the contracted capacity, the states can still derive benefits from implementing the PM-KUSUM initiative. There are various other concerns in the solar irrigation space. One common issue is power outages due to the poor state of rural feeder infrastructure. Developers point out that the safeguards recommended in the PM-KUSUM guidelines for grid availability do not fully solve these concerns. Moreover, developers face an uphill task in identifying and securing affordable land for setting up solar plants, as well as in developing the necessary transmission and evacuation infrastructure. Another major challenge for developers is navigating land revenue regulations, which include the timely application of land use and restriction on land transfers under certain conditions. Furthermore, key financing-related challenges include the poor track record of discoms in making timely payments of dues and limited access to credit from financial institutions due to the low creditworthiness of developers.
Overall, agrivoltaics and solar irrigation hold immense potential in India and the government should implement suitable solutions to promote their uptake.