Renewable Energy

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

Size, location of land and impact on human habitation, agriculture and conservation of natural resources should be evaluated

By Susan Chacko
Published: Wednesday 08 September 2021
How land-use for renewable energy in India can be environmentally sustainable

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, according to a new report. 

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, the report released September 6, 2021 estimated. 

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), according a February 2021 study published in the journal Scientific Reports. The amount of carbon release will depend on the region, scale of expansion, solar technology efficiency and land management practices at solar parks. 

Unlike coal-based power, renewable energy generation does not fundamentally change the character of land, the September report published by The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis observed. The paper, however, called for optimising the size of land used, its location and impact on human habitation, agriculture and conservation of natural resources to reduce environmental damage. 

The paper suggested the following guidelines for building land-use framework for installation of renewable energy generation capacity: 

  1. Minimising total land-use requirements for renewable energy by promoting offshore wind, rooftop solar and solar on water bodies
  2. Identification and assessment of land for renewable generation by limiting undue regional concentration and developing environmental and social standards for rating potential sites. 
  3. Attention on Indian agri-voltaics sector — securing benefits to farmers and incentivising agrivoltaics uptake where crops, soils and conditions are suitable and yields can be maintained or improved.

Pressure on land, ecosystems

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

A growing body of research illustrates that land use for renewable energy may put a strain on a variety of ecosystems. 

Open Natural Ecosystems (ONE), classified as wastelands, covered around 300,000 sq km (10 per cent) of India’s land surface, a study found. 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 livelihoods of local populations.

Policy makers and planners should exclude these habitats when considering location of renewable energy projects, the researcher wrote in the paper. 

The Supreme Court April 19, 2021 directed all power lines of solar power units passing through Great Indian Bustard habitats in Rajasthan and Gujarat to be laid underground - as the overhead transmission lines could threaten the endangered species.

There has also been a steady decline in common land and so, consensus is needed for land requirements for renewable energy, the report stated. 

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