Suitable Solutions: Potential of agrivoltaics and solar irrigation

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.

Solar pumps

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.