Over the past decade, large-scale solar photovoltaic projects have been commissioned in many countries. In countries such as India, where the grid-connected photovoltaic (PV) capacity has gone up from almost zero to 2,600MWp in just four years, one of the key issues that has arisen is land use as agriculture and renewable energy vy for the same resources.
Many experts have expressed that co-location of crop cultivation and solar power generation must be given serious thought, and the idea has been put to test in Japan. In simple terms, co-location sees the land allocated to solar panels used simultaneously for agricultural activities. Rainwater and water used to clean the solar panels can be collected and funnelled along the ground underneath the panels and used as irrigation for plants. Currently, many project developers and engineers in India are implementing this methodology by growing a selection of crops at utility-scale solar power generation facilities.
Headway Solar, a solar energy-focused consulting firm based in Delhi, India, has conducted a study on solar-agriculture co-location. According to their analysis, even if half of the PV installations projected by 2017 adopted co-location in India, "about 11,200 hectares of land would be brought under cultivation with an addition of 27,000 agriculture and project-related jobs", along with nominal increase in annual project revenue. Another benefit of co-location would be reduction in loose dust, which would improve the efficiency of the solar power plant.
This idea is yet to be tested on a large scale though. There might be challenges which need to be overcome. Accoding to Headway Solar, "changes to the mounting structure will increase cost and personnel accessing the co-location site might be exposed to safety risk". To take this idea forward, the company believes that inter-disciplinary research should be conducted by horticulturists and solar PV engineers, pilot projects should be set up and best practices should be included in the guidelines by the government.
We at RESET, hope that this idea proves to be beneficial to all the stakeholders - after all, it adds to the triple bottom-line of people, planet and profit.