Judicious planning of land use for solar and wind generation will help India to achieve its renewable energy ambitions, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis’ (IEEFA) new report which examines how much land would be needed for the country to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
IEEFA has calculated that if India were to implement a mid-century net-zero target, solar could occupy in the range of 50,000-75,000 square kilometres (km2) of land, while wind could use a further 1,500-2,000 km2 (for the land area directly impacted by turbine pads, sub-stations, roads and buildings) or 15,000-20,000 km2 (the total project area including space between turbines and other infrastructure).
The amount of land that could be needed for solar is equivalent to 1.7-2.5% of India’s total landmass, or 2.2-3.3% of non-forested land.
The report’s author Dr Charles Worringham, researcher and IEEFA guest contributor, explains that the higher end of the land-use range is deliberately generous to allow plenty of leeway for planning.
“This is a precautionary approach for the purposes of planning and putting in place smart land-use policies today for future renewable infrastructure,” he says.
India should plan today for 2050s Solar and Wind. Following measures can ensure optimal use of land for renewables:
Minimising total land-use: Install offshore wind, distributed rooftop solar, and solar on artificial water bodies.
Optimising the identification and assessment of land: Use clear environmental and social criteria for rating potential sites; undertaking comprehensive independent assessments of potential sites against these criteria in advance of tenders or project proposals; incentivising the selection of tenders on sites where there is no land conflict; limiting concentration of generation in single regions and supporting widely distributed renewable generation at a range of scales.
Increase stock of suitable land: Boost the uptake of agrivoltaics where crops, soils and conditions are suitable and yields can be maintained or improved. Agricultural land has the potential to host a much larger proportion of renewable generation, providing a boost to the rural economy and reducing pressure on other land, according to the report.
Nurturing an Indian agrivoltaics sector could provide benefits to farmers such as a second income stream, says Worringham.
“Whether or not India commits to a mid-century net-zero emissions target, its huge expansion of renewable energy capacity over the coming decades will enhance energy security enormously, but this requires a large amount of land for infrastructure,” he says.
“The energy transition will also require important choices about where this infrastructure should be located. But careful planning and solutions like agrivoltaics, distributed energy systems and offshore wind can also greatly reduce the potential for renewable generation to conflict with social and environmental values whilst diversifying and strengthening India’s national grid. By bringing more generation closer to both urban and rural loads, transmission costs could also be kept in check.”