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Three ways India can ensure optimal land use for renewables

India needs to ensure smart, judicious, and adequate planning of land use for renewable energy projects to meet its ambitious 2050 energy decarbonisation and sustainability goals.

This is according to a new report issued by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis’ (IEEFA).

The report, Renewable energy and land use in India by mid-century, provides three recommendations India can adopt to maximise the benefits and minimise the costs of land use for the energy transition. The recommendations include:

The report warns India could run out of land that is adequately prepared for renewables if better planning mechanisms are not adopted.

Moreover, land-use conflicts could arise over renewable energy installations, even in sparsely populated areas, slowing the rollout of renewable energy deployment and the progress of the energy transition.

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With the country anticipated to require between 50,000 and 75,000 square kilometres (km2) of land for solar to meet 2050 net-zero targets, re-using agricultural land has the potential to help India increase the land available for renewables projects, according to the study.

This will, in turn, encourage the adoption of the agrivoltaics business case, increasing revenue streams for farmers and ensuring farmers can play a role in the energy transition and stabilising the grid network.

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, according to IEEFA.

For wind energy, India needs a further 15,000-20,000 km2 (the total project area including space between turbines and other infrastructure), according to the study.

Dr Charles Worringham, researcher and IEEFA guest contributor, said: “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.

“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.”

The report also states that coal will remain an important element in ensuring India has adequate electricity and as such coal projects will need to be developed in already heavily mined districts or from new coal blocks, which are often in forest areas and where displacement of Adivasi communities is an issue. 

However, the report notes the important role energy efficiency will play in simplifying the country’s shift to renewable energy resources.

Find out more about the report here.