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Attractive option? Govt of India-approved 40 solar parks to require 2 lakh acres of land

Counterview Desk 

Power and climate policy analyst Shankar Sharma has sounded alarm over what he calls challenges in the plans to set up 61 solar parks totaling 40 GW, recently approved by the  Ministry for Renewable Energy (MNRE), Government of India, stating, experience suggests on an average 5-6 acres of land may be required to set up a land based 1 MW solar power project.
In a letter to the top Government of India thinktank Niti Aayog Vice-Chairperson and members, Sharma wonders, “Is it credible to assume that all such lands will come from only the highly degraded lands, and no fertile agricultural or forest lands will be required?”

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This has reference to multiple challenges associated with the resource mobilisation to achieve smooth energy transition by 2050-70.
In the context of the frequently raised questions: "How will India achieve its steep renewable energy (RE) goals", and "Why it’s absurd to fill fields with solar panels", it is a lot more disconcerting that MNRE has recently approved 61 solar parks totaling 40 GW of solar power capacity.
In the context of recent past experience that on an average 5-6 acres of land may be required to set up a land based 1 MW solar power project, 40 GW capacity solar power parks may need about 200,000 acres of land; assuming that additional land will also be required for setting up the dedicated transmission lines, and the associated infrastructure such as substations, buildings and service roads.
Is it credible to assume that all such lands will come from only the highly degraded lands, and no fertile agricultural or forest lands will be required? Even if it is so, can the country afford to lose millions of acres of such lands for setting up solar power parks during the next 2-3 decades (few Million MW of RE capacity will be needed to reduce our GHG emissions by considerable margins by 2030-40).
If we are to rely mostly on such large size RE parks to move away from fossil fuel dependence by 2050-70, the total land diversion needed may exceed tens of millions of acres of land. This will be in addition to vast amounts of water needed to regularly clean the solar panels in such solar parks; and the enormous quantities of wastes associated with the packaging of solar panels needed between the place of manufacturing and the place of installation. All these need to be managed responsibly and sustainably at the lowest overall societal costs.
How will the diversion of such massive chunks of lands impact our poor and vulnerable communities? Are such societal costs inevitable? How will our ability to ensure food security be impacted with so much diversion of lands, and the associated pressure on fresh water sources?
Are we making all possible efforts to optimally harness the roof-top surfaces for solar power production?
Have we objectively considered various alternatives available to our country in our efforts to move away from fossil fuels? Are we making all possible efforts to optimally harness the roof-top surfaces for solar power production?
A high level estimation indicates that even if we can efficiently harness the roof-top surfaces available with 20% of the suitable houses across the country, more than a few Million MW of solar power capacity can be obtained. If we also add the enormous surface area available with other kinds of government buildings alone, the solar power potential can run up to scores of millions of MW capacity.
Many of these concerns can be satisfactorily addressed if we can efficiently harness the vast area available on water surface of the large number of lakes, reservoirs, backwaters etc. available in the country.
In the backdrop of such attractive options available to our country, how rational is it to divert massive chunks of land, maybe totalling a few million acres, to set up land based solar power parks?
Unfortunately, there is no information in the public domain to suggest that all such associated issues have been diligently considered by the Union govt. in the form of a National Energy Policy. This is despite many concerns expressed by civil society in recent years.
Niti Aayog may please inform the people of this country, as to how such strategic issues of enormous importance to our country are being considered by the Union government.

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