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A 2GW solar farm – for farmers: India launches “world’s largest” solar park

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One Step Off The Grid

Last week, the chief minister of the Indian state of Karnataka inaugurated the first 600MW of what is being dubbed the largest single solar farm in the world – the 2GW Pavagada Solar Park.

But it is not the size of the project – all 2GW of which is expected to be completed by the end of this year – that makes it so interesting.

The innovative project, which has been co-financed by the Indian government’s Union Ministry of New Renewable Energy (MNRE) and the state government, aims to use the solar farm both as an economic lifeline to struggling local farmers, and as a massive clean energy injection to the state’s struggling grid.

The $A3.2 billion solar park, also known as Shakti Sthala, has been built over 13,000 acres across five villages in the Tumakuru district of Karnataka; a farming region that has been ravaged by drought and unemployment.

The farmland is being been leased from the farmers, by the government, for the life of the solar project. So far, a total of 2,300 farmers of Pavagada have leased out 13,000 acres of land at Rs.21,000 ($A416) per acre per annum.

Not only does this help empower those farmers, and keep them and their families on the land, but the unique leasing model removes what can be a major obstacle to solar farm development: the sourcing and acquisition of suitable land.

“Pavagada, in Tumkur district, is one of the most arid regions of our state. Over the last five decades, due to extreme weather conditions and low possibilities of economic growth, more than 10,000 people had migrated annually from Pavagada,” said state energy minister DK Shivakumar.

“To solve this problem… this ambitious project, spanning five villages, looks at farmers as the key partners, and also as beneficiaries. Shakti Sthala is creating new job opportunities and economic growth leading to the prosperity of the people of Pavagada,”

The project is part of the Karnataka Solar Policy 2014-2021, which was launched in May 2014 and, the Karnataka government claims, has helped to deliver a massive 23,379MW of new capacity in just four years.

Meanwhile, the Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Limited has reportedly upgraded 311 substations and started works on a total of 141 new substations of various capacities also with those four years.

“As a result, people are gaining more power, with transmission losses reduced from 3.81 per cent in 2012- 2013 to 3.288 per cent in 2016-17,” the state government said.

“The number of substations has increased from 1,353 in 2012-13 to 1494 in January 2018. 40 new substations have been set up in 2017-18 alone, increasing the overall transmission line capacity of various voltages.”

This article was originally published on RenewEconomy’s sister site, One Step Off The Grid, which focuses on customer experience with distributed generation. To sign up to One Step’s free weekly newsletter, please click here  

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  • Joe

    Lifting India out of energy poverty…without a lump of Adani / Aussie coal anywhere to be seen.

  • Faulco Pete

    As someone who champions renewables, including solar, I applaud this further penetration of renewable energy in India. But, of course, India is dragged down by its massive overpopulation, and this project trades farmland for energy. To me, that puts it in the same basket as ethanol. As India struggles to rid itself of thermal coal, while at the same time bringing over a billion up to a ‘better’ lifestyle, this conundrum will rear its head repeatedly.

    • My_Oath

      This land is non-productive. It is not the same case as replacing food crops with ethanol production at all.

      • Calamity_Jean

        It’s non-productive because of drought. Presumably it had been productive in the past, or there wouldn’t be farmers living there.

        IIRC, an Indian farmer has discovered that land in India can be agriculturally productive with the land one-third covered by PV panels. The drought in Pavaganda is probably long-term because of wind shifts caused by climate change, but if the drought breaks the land could be returned to agricultural use by raising every third row of panels high enough for the farmer to work under them, and taking out the other two rows to install elsewhere. Sunlight in India is so intense that plants can flourish in less than full sun.

  • stucrmnx120fshwf

    A solar farm, in the scale of a nuclear power plant, right after the US greenhouse gas emissions reductions, are coming more, from renewables, than the conversion, from coal to gas. In spite of Trump, the US is exceeding it’s climate change CO2 emissions reductions target, because renewables, are cheaper than coal and getting cheaper still.

  • aoxb62

    Its very interesting. To build and maintain infrastructure. This requires thousands of people. So the farmers get a guaranteed income from their properties. The people in the area get jobs. Finally when power comes on line, investments come in because u have infrastructure to power up manufacturing plants and homes.
    Now the average person has access to power so that they can run their lights, computers, all the things we in the west take for granted.
    Now its indias turn.

    WIN, WIN WIN solution.

  • Malcolm Scott

    I’m interested to see what productivity can be achieved from the soil under these solar farms. Sunlight on the ground is less, but not zero, and may be optimal for something else in what are sometimes marginal places. Total rain on the ground is the same, just not spread out.

    Sheep are not a sound solution, as is often the answer in Australia

    • crazy biologist

      Agave can be grown between the rows of panels. It grows in arid conditions, doesn’t grow so big that it shades the panels (especially if it’s regularly harvested), and can be used to make second-generation biofuels. MSF Sugar in north Queensland are conducting an agave trial at the moment as part of their plans for a biofuel refinery.

    • Calamity_Jean

      If the panels are mounted high enough for a person to walk under them, the plants underneath will get quite a lot of light, because the shade of the panels moves as the Earth turns. In very sunny regions like India and Australia, you could grow a lot of things.