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Agriculture is the mainstay of Indian economy, despite the rise of manufacturing and services sectors. The sector contributes 15% to the GDP and provides livelihood to almost two-thirds of the total working population in the country. Agriculture is also the key source of raw materials for textile, sugar, food, medicine (primarily Ayurveda), and new age health and fitness products. Like other industries agriculture, especially irrigation, requires substantial energy inputs. According to estimates, agriculture uses 20% of electricity consumed at national level. Farmers have installed nine million diesel pump sets for groundwater irrigation. The high consumption of power in the agriculture sector is concerning especially in context of India’s climate goals. The Government has set a target to eliminate the use of diesel in the sector by 2024, thus making the agriculture power sector green. Renewable energy (RE) has emerged as the most viable and sustainable option to address the environment concerns. It can also boost farmer income and conserve natural resources. The Government has taken several steps to empower farmers with RE Systems to make them energy self-sufficient. The Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) administers several Central Government-sponsored initiatives and facilitates associated research, design, development, and manufacturing to promote RE systems/devices in agriculture.
Renewable Sources to Power Agriculture Sector
Biogas is one of the most popular and versatile form of RE deployed extensively in rural India to serve many purposes. At present, over five million biogas plants of various capacities are operational in the country. Biogas plants generate the high calorific value (5,000 kcal per cu.m.) gas by decomposition of organic materials such as cattle dung, agricultural wastes, poultry droppings, night soil and municipal wastes.
Biogas is used as clean fuel for cooking, lighting, motive power etc. It is also used in diesel engines to substitute diesel up to 80%, however, 100% replacement of diesel may be achieved by using Biogas Engines. The digested slurry from biogas plants, a by-product, is used as a nutrient enriched organic manure for improving crop yield and also maintain soil health.
Biogas plants help with waste management, reduce energy costs, improve soil fertility and curb carbon emissions. Proper waste management on farms leads to better cleanliness and hygiene which improves the living conditions and health of the community. The biogas sector has helped generate employment for both skilled and unskilled rural people.
Government of India is promoting installation of biogas plants by providing subsidy through two major schemes: (a) New National Biogas and Organic Manure Programme (NNBOMP) for biogas plants in size range of 1 cu.m. to 25 cu.m. per day; (b) Biogas Power Generation (off-grid) and Thermal Energy Application Programme (BPGTP) for setting up biogas plants in the size range of 30 cu.m. to 2500 cu.m. per day. This corresponds to power generation capacity range of 3 kW to 250 kW for thermal energy/cooling applications.
GOBARdhan: The Government of India has launched a dedicated GOBARdhan (Galvanising Organic Bio-Agro Resources Dhan) scheme (Swachh Bharat Mission Grameen Phase-2) with twin objectives: (a) To make the villages clean; (b) Generate clean power from organic wastes. The scheme also aims to increase income of farmers by converting biodegradable waste into compressed biogas (CBG). Technical and financial assistance under the scheme is attracting entrepreneurs for establishing community based CBG plants in rural areas. CBG is a purified form of biogas (98% purity of methane content) which makes it suitable for use as green and clean fuel for transportation or filling in cylinders at high pressure (250 bar). Scheme is also promoting rural employment and income generation opportunities for rural youth and others.
Recently, Asia’s largest CBG plant was inaugurated at Sangrur, Punjab with an FDI investment of INR 220 crores. CBG plant offers a much needed substitute for burning crop stubbles. The Sangrur plant can consume 300 tonnes of paddy straw every day. It is claimed that this plant will reduce the burning of stubble on 40,000-45,000 acres of fields, resulting in an annual reduction of 150,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. This will help India meet its CoP-26 climate change targets of reducing carbon emissions.
|Read More: Biogas: Advantages and Challenges – Explained, pointwise|
Biomass is another potential source of RE in rural India that provides power for household needs and irrigation. Biomass materials used for power generation primarily include bagasse, rice husk, straw, crop waste and agricultural residues. A study estimated surplus biomass availability at about 230 million metric tones per annum covering agricultural residues corresponding to a power potential of 28GW.
MNRE has been implementing biomass power/cogeneration programs since mid-90s. Over 800 biomass power and bagasse/ non-bagasse cogeneration projects aggregating to over 10,206 MW capacity have been installed with central financial assistance from the Government of India.
Power from biomass is generated by installing biomass gasifiers in proximity to the source of raw materials to reduce costs. In Bihar, a gasifier based business model for power generation and distribution uses rice-husk as source material. A series of more than 80 biomass gasifier plants supplies power to nearly 300 villages and hamlets on payment basis. People generally use electricity for household, business lighting, charging of mobile phones and operation of irrigation pumpsets. Irrigation pumps powered by rice-husk electricity are cheaper, long lasting and more eco-friendly than diesel powered pumps. Irrigation facility at low cost allows farmers to increase crop intensity and also improves crop yield. It can help reduce the emission intensity of power use in agriculture sector.
Government of India has made a strong commitment to explore and tap the vast potential of solar energy for driving the development of various economic sectors vis-à-vis meeting the targets of COP-26. Addressing the energy concerns in agriculture sector, a large number of solar devices/ equipments have been developed and deployed that include solar water pumps, solar dryers, solar dusters etc.
PM-KUSUM (Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Surkasha Evan Utthaan Mahaabhiyan) scheme, launched in 2019, has emerged as a real game changer for energy security of farming community and greening the power use in agriculture sector. It is one of the largest initiatives of the world to provide clean energy to more than 35 lakh farmers and enhance their income. The scheme is being implemented through its three components with specific objectives.
Component A: Decentralised Grid Connected Solar Power Plants (Target – 10,000 MW): This component intends to make farmers ‘Urja Data‘ by installing small solar power plant (up to 2 MW capacity) on barren, fallow, pasture or marshy land, and selling the generated power to electricity Distribution Companies (DISCOMS) on a pre-determined rate. In case of cultivated lands, solar panels may be set up in such a manner that chosen crops may grow under the panels. In addition to individual farmers, cooperatives, panchayats, and Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) can also be beneficiary under the scheme.
A farmer may earn up to INR 25,000 per acre per year if the plant is installed by a developer; and up to INR 65,000 if the plant is installed individually through loan. The RBI has notified this component under priority sector lending that allows competitive rates and soft terms. The Union Government provides financial incentive to DISCOMS for purchase of power from such solar plants. About 73.45 MW cumulative capacity of small solar plants have been installed under this component so far, out of which 48.2 MW has been added during 2022.
Component B: Installation of Standalone Solar Powered Agriculture Pumps (Target – 20 lakh): Under this component, individual farmers can replace their existing diesel pumps with solar pumps through Central Financial Assistance (30% of the benchmark cost) and State Government’s subsidy (30%). The remaining 40% will be borne by the farmer, but bank finance for 30% is available, so farmer will have to initially pay only 10% of the cost.
Groups of farmers, water user associations and community/ cluster-based irrigation systems are also eligible for financial assistance. All solar pumps installed under the scheme will be equipped with remote monitoring systems to facilitate their monitoring on a real time basis. Solar pumps will reduce the irrigation costs of about INR 50,000 per year for a 5 HP pump.
Component C: Solarisation of existing Grid-connected agriculture pumps (Target – 15 lakh): Under this component, exclusive power feeders for agricultural purposes will be solarised by installing solar power plants of required capacity. The farmer will get day time reliable power for irrigation free of cost or at a tariff as fixed by their respective States.
In addition to day time reliable power and increase in farmer’s income, the scheme also has direct employment generation potential. According to estimates, each solar installation creates ~ 25 job years per MW. After complete implementation, the scheme will lead to an annual reduction of 1.38 billion litres in diesel consumption per year, thus, reducing the import bill on account of petroleum products. The scheme will also lead to reducing carbon emissions by as much as 32 million tones per annum.
Solar PV (Photo Voltaic) Pumping Systems
Among many solar devices/equipments developed so far, solar water pumps are the most popular ones with wide scale adoption across the country. Technically called Solar PV (Photo Voltaic) pumping systems, these are of great utility specifically in low head situations like water lifting from canals, shallow wells and dug wells, farm ponds etc. Solar PV systems can be best used with pressurized systems. Large size solar pumps in a canal command area to irrigate crops with sprinklers.
Source: Kurukshetra February 2023
Renewable Energy can play a vital role in providing power to agriculture sector. Due to immense potential and scope of renewable energy in agriculture sector, Government is focusing on decentralised RE systems and products. MNRE has recently released a framework (2022) to promote RE based applications that are used for earning livelihoods. A special focus on engaging all stakeholders, skill development and capacity building would scale up RE-based livelihood applications. However, financing for the end-users and enterprises would be critical to enable the adoption of solutions and scale-up of the sector. There has been a visible impact of renewable energy in the Indian agriculture during the last few years. RE based decentralised and distributed applications have benefitted millions of farmers in villages by meeting their energy needs in an environment friendly manner.
Syllabus: GS III, Infrastructure: Energy; GS III, Conservation.
Source: Kurukshetra February 2023