Solar energy, green sham
There is more to lot of international interest in India’s green energy just than provide a new renewable mode — agriculture land grab.
India had pursued an ambitious road map to produce 20,000 MW of power from solar energy by 2022. The aim was not just to provide an alternate renewable energy option but also utilize large tracks of waste lands in hot sunny areas around the country.
Initial projects under Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission show that the state governments have helped private companies to acquire productive agriculture land to set up solar thermal and solar photovoltaic units.
The reason for it appears the reluctance of companies to set up solar energy units in far flung areas which lack infrastructure facilities such as roads. Most of the waste land, which could have been utilized for setting up these units, is not connected with roads and providing connectivity would have resulted in huge infrastructure costs.
As a result, the state governments opted for easy way out — acquiring easily accessible agriculture land. It has happened in Rajasthan and Gujarat, two states competing to become solar centers in India.
It has two negative impacts. First, the opportunity to develop infrastructure for making rural wastelands useful is being lost. Second, acquiring productive agriculture land poses huge threat to country’s food security. Globally, use of agriculture land for producing bio-fuels has resulted in either food production stagnating or falling in low output years.
India had tried to safeguard itself by not opting for agriculture land for renewable energy options including bio-fuels and green energy. Though that was the intention but the actual grounds reports shows it was not happening.
The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy which is mandated to promote green energy options appears to have overlooked the growing conflict of solar with agriculture. Farmers have not protested in large numbers so far because the price they have got for land has been reasonable. A few farmers are, however, not happy and contemplating moving court against acquisition in Rajasthan.
Another key element — promoting domestic production of solar equipment — is also not happening as most of the companies are routing western modules through Indian companies. Industry sources say that getting the equipment from abroad costs less rather than developing in India. China has turned into a hot destination with over 70 % of the equipment for use in solar photovoltaic and thermal being procured from them. It has also resulted in none of the Indian research institutions putting money on research and development of new solar technologies as companies prefer imports because of its cost effectiveness.
To me, euphoria over the national solar mission is a sham and the government needs to re-look at the policy to make India a global solar destination. I hope the government conducts some ground inspections to find the real picture.