New report suggests how land-use for renewable energy in India can be environmentally sustainable

What is the news?

Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) has recently released a report titled “Renewable Energy and Land Use in India by Mid-Century“.

According to the report, India will use significant stretches of land by 2050 to install renewable energy generation capacities, and the land-use increase may have an impact on the environment.

What are the key findings of the report?

Pressure on land: In India, electricity generation has to compete with alternative uses for land such as agriculture, urbanization, human habitation, and nature conservation, unlike Europe or the United States of America.

The study shows that the land use for renewable energy may put a strain on a variety of ecosystems.

Land use for renewable energy: Around 50,000-75,000 square kilometres of land will be used in 2050 for solar energy generation and for an additional 15,000-20,000 sq km for wind energy projects.

Net carbon release: The resulting land cover changes, including indirect effects, will likely cause a net release of carbon up to 50 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour (gCO2 / kwh).

But the amount of carbon release will depend on the region, the scale of expansion, solar technology efficiency, and land management practices at solar parks.

Comparison to coal-based plants: Unlike coal-based power, renewable energy generation does not fundamentally change the character of the land.

What are the suggestions provided by the report?

Reduce land use: Minimising total land-use requirements for renewable energy by promoting offshore wind, rooftop solar, and solar on water bodies.

Identification and assessment of land for renewable generation by limiting undue regional concentration and developing environmental and social standards for rating potential sites.

Attention on Indian Agri-Voltaics sector: India needs to provide benefits to farmers and incentivising agrivoltaics uptake where crops, soils, and conditions are suitable and yields can be maintained or improved.

Note: Agri-Voltaics is a way of co-developing the same area of land for both solar photovoltaic power and for agriculture.

Protect Open Natural Ecosystems (ONEs): In India, ONEs has been classified as wastelands. They cover around 300,000 sq km (10 percent) of India’s land surface. The largest stretches are found in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.

These have the “highest densities and diversity of large mammalian fauna” and also support the livelihoods of local populations. So, the government should exclude these habitats when considering the location of renewable energy projects.

Source: This post is based on the article “New report suggests how land-use for renewable energy in India can be environmentally sustainable” published in Down to Earth on 8th September 2021.

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