1. Home
  2. India
  3. Community-scale Agrivoltaics powering rural development through renewable energy – EQ
Community-scale Agrivoltaics powering rural development through renewable energy – EQ

Community-scale Agrivoltaics powering rural development through renewable energy – EQ


In Short – Community-scale agrivoltaics integrate agriculture and solar power, energizing rural development sustainably. By co-locating crops and solar panels, farmers optimize land use, boosting agricultural productivity while generating renewable energy. This approach fosters economic growth, enhances energy access, and mitigates climate change impacts. Empowering communities with clean energy, agrivoltaics exemplify a harmonious blend of tradition and innovation, driving rural prosperity into the future.

In Details – Agrivoltaics can provide reliable and cheaper electricity to rural areas. It is a sustainable technology that uses land for both solar power generation and food production, making it particularly beneficial in limited land areas. India’s rural populace requires reliable electricity access to improve their quality of life. However, barriers such as limited power generation capacity, geographical remoteness, and limited funds hinder this goal. On the other hand, in many developed economies such as Germany, France, Italy, and Japan, the effective implementation of Agrivoltaics, a combination of solar PV installations with agricultural operations, has drastically improved the living conditions of farmers and people engaged in primary livelihood activities. Agrivoltaics is a novel approach to land use that combines solar PV installations with agricultural operations, enhancing the output of electricity and food. This innovative practice addresses the competition for land resources and the rift between renewable energy initiatives and agricultural productivity. Studies have shown that co-locating agrivoltaics with grape farming can increase revenue by 15 times compared to traditional farming, and if replicated across India, they can generate 16,000 GWh of electricity, enough to power 15 million households.

Agrivoltaics can provide reliable and cheaper electricity to rural areas. It is a sustainable technology that uses land for both solar power generation and food production, making it particularly beneficial in limited land areas. It increases crop productivity by providing partial shade and reducing water evaporation and plant transpiration. Solar developers also provide additional income to farmers through lease fees, reducing soil erosion and pest pressure. Elevated panels offer shelter for delicate crops like berries and grapes and improve power output by staying cooler under the panels. Additionally, raised panels allow sheep and cattle grazing to control weeds and reduce grass-cutting costs.

Real-world solutions for rural communities

Solar panels generate energy that can be used for irrigation, climate control systems, and electric farm vehicles. The presence of crops also mitigates the environmental impact of solar installations by reducing soil erosion and conserving water. Agrivoltaics is not just about environmental benefits; it also enhances the economic value of agricultural land, providing real-world solutions for rural communities vulnerable to climate change and economic instability. The surplus energy generated can be sold back to the grid, allowing for financial rewards to be invested back into farming operations or the local community.

Agrivoltaics commercialization

The commercialization of Agrivoltaics in India requires technological innovations and testing viable business models. Three potential business models include jointly owned by farmer and developer, solely owned by either, and developer as a primary promoter and farmer as a partner. Technological innovations like bifacial panels and sun tracking can be encouraged through state-sponsored pilots. Arid and semi-arid regions, as well as peri-urban areas, are likely to be favourable locations for Agrivoltaics due to their favourable conditions for agriculture and energy generation.

There is a shortage of research and pilots in this field. Only a limited variety of crops and agricultural settings have been tested so far, which is hindering the growth of Agrivoltaics in India. Therefore, better-designed pilots with rigorous testing methods are needed to build a strong knowledge base. The technical feasibility of Agrivoltaics is suggested for some crops like leafy vegetables, millet, and medicinal plants under shading conditions. However, better-designed pilots with rich data collection on crop microenvironments are needed.

Measures to improve the growth momentum

India can lead in establishing the necessary evidence base and exploring agrivoltaics at peri-urban sites near high-value horticultural products markets. State governments need to reform land-use and tax regulations to support Agrivoltaics and develop consistent standards and definitions. Clear definitions and standards are needed to ensure a shared understanding of project criteria, as well as adequate safeguards and enforcement mechanisms to prevent developers from misusing provisions to circumvent land-use laws. Simultaneously, states need to consider innovative tariff structures to support Agrivoltaics commercialization at scale. A single ceiling tariff across a state negates the location advantage of Agrivoltaics in areas with high land rent. Alternative tariff-setting approaches, such as substation or zone-specific tariffs or supporting the open-access route, can help promote Agrivoltaics. Capacity building is crucial for scaling up Agrivoltaics, as scientific design and crop management require advanced skills among farmers. States should ensure farmers and developers have access to information through training, professional networks, and centres of excellence.

Continuous innovation and peer learning are essential to overcome operational challenges, such as safety concerns, increased maintenance costs, structural decay, and coordination with farmers. Further research and peer learning are needed to scale up solutions like rainwater harvesting structures Governments could provide financial incentives for Agrivoltaics adoption by providing early-stage support to farmers through loan guarantees or direct support mechanisms. Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) should vest ownership and development rights for Agrivoltaics with farm communities rather than power companies. If farmers have sufficient power access and the grid is well-developed, selling generated electricity to discoms may be the most attractive option. States could develop incentives for successful co-production of power and crops and retain the authority to discontinue projects if they consistently fall below minimum standards.

Glittering future ahead

Agrivoltaics is poised to become a common practice in sustainable agriculture and renewable energy generation. Technological advancements and pilot projects are expected to enhance efficiency and feasibility. Government policies and incentives will play a pivotal role in propelling Agrivoltaics, addressing challenges like initial investment costs and land-use regulations. As the benefits of Agrivoltaics become more evident, the practice is expected to gain traction nationwide, contributing to sustainability goals.

Anand Gupta Editor - EQ Int'l Media Network