Land is not a constraint for upcoming renewable energy plants in India

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A recent report published by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP), has claimed that total land footprint needed to meet India’s 2022 renewable energy target is in range of ~55,000 to 1,25,000 Sq km which will require displacement of 50,621 Sq km of agricultural land, 11,607 Sq km of forest, and 1315 Sq km of other natural lands. This has created ruffles in renewable energy industry and hence SPDA, an industry body of Solar Power Developers examined the issue and came to conclusion that numbers mentioned in the said article do not seem to be correct. This is explained in this article.


To combat climate change, India has undertaken bold actions to ensure that it not only meets but exceeds the commitments to reduce its emissions by 2030. It is a well-known fact that the primary renewable energy technologies – solar and wind which have witnessed maximum scaling up in recent past, are land intensive. While it is true that construction of such projects requires significant quantum of land, however, land is available for meeting renewable installed capacity targets for 2022. As the matter of fact, land is not expected to be constraints even for target set for 2030.


A large-scale solar utility projects requires around 5 Acres / MW of land. Similarly, as per current data, wind turbines require land usage of 4.5 Acres / MW.
Let us now look at capacity addition targets for Wind and Solar projects for 2022 and 2030.

         2022 (GW)	2030 (GW)
Solar	    100*	 300
Wind	     60		 140
Others	     15		 10**
Total	    175		 450
Source: CEA Reports, figures are cumulative

The corresponding land requirements are provided below:

	2022	2030
Solar	2,023	6,070
Wind	1,093	2,550
Total	3,116	8,620

Assumptions
Solar- 5 Acres / MW
Wind – 4. 5 Acres / MW
1 Sq km = 247.10 Acres

As per our estimates, even with 450 MW RE target by 2030, total land area required would be 8620 sq km. This is roughly 3% of total area of Rajasthan state (a potential state for installation of both solar and wind projects).


It may be noted that estimates of land for Utility scale solar is on higher side. With advancement of technology in terms of efficiency and panel size, may developers have reported to have developed projects with land requirement of 3.5 – 4 Acres / MW. As per the trends in solar manufacturing sector, the technology is bound to grow in coming years which should lead to further reduction in land requirement. As per the industry experts, a similar technology upgradation is expected in wind sector, which ultimately shall reduce the footprint area of wind turbine.


Further, it may also be noted that different models such as solar-wind hybrid and repowering model are also being promoted by the government, which not only improves efficiency of the plant but also ensures higher utilization of land.
It is worth mentioning here the land usage pattern of India:

Forest6,99,7027,17,694
Cultivated land18,28,22218,18,226
Wasteland5,26,7765,40,770
Other2,30,9022,08,911
Source: Statistical Yearbook India 2018, MOSPI

As can be observed, land availability hardly seems to be constraint. As the matter of fact, wasteland available in the country if allocated to RE sources can meet the any future requirement. With right regulatory support and even distribution of RE capacity, India in firmly poised to meet its energy transition targets.

This is a guest column contributed by Mr. Praveen Golash.

Praveen Golash is working as Joint Secretary with Solar Power Developer Association.

Mr. Golash is a seasoned professional with 14 years of experience across the power sector value chain. He is a Mechanical Engineering graduate from MITS Gwalior and MBA in Power Management from National Power Training Institute, Faridabad.

He has worked with leading consulting firms like KPMG and McKinsey in areas of strategy, business planning, cost optimization, etc. He has been associated with the solar energy sector in India since its inception and was involved in advising companies with renewable energy entry strategies, bidding support under JNNSM, State solar policies, etc. He has also worked with MNRE on devising a plan for usage of solar power in telecom towers and initiatives on the usage of solar pumps.

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