New Delhi, 23 January 2020 – A new research article, “Renewable Energy and Land Use in India: A Vision to Facilitate Sustainable Development”, published in the scientific journal, Sustainability, shows that total land footprint needed to meet India’s renewable energy targets is large, ranging from approximately 55,000 to 125,000 km2, or areas roughly the size of Himachal Pradesh or Chhattisgarh, respectively.
If renewable energy development proceeds with the singular aim of maximizing resource potential, approximately 6700–11,900 km2 of forest land and 24,100–55,700 km2 of agricultural land could be impacted at various scales. These losses could cause environmental and social conflicts, jeopardize financial investment, and in turn slow the expansion of renewable energy in the country. The Nature Conservancy analyses also show that there is ample opportunity (more than 10 times what is needed) to achieve India’s solar and wind goals on converted lands, which are likely to have lower biodiversity or agricultural values. 27% India’s 329 million hectares are classified as wasteland, that is enough for renewable goals deployment.
The research demonstrates that it is possible for India to meet the lofty renewable energy target of 175 GW by 2022 by placing renewable energy infrastructure on already degraded lands that have lower potential conflict. This is a significant opportunity as our country scales up renewable energy production and may lead to faster renewable energy project implementation, lower project costs, and increased energy access.
India has made the ambitious commitment to increase renewable energy production to 175 GW by 2022. Recently, at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York on September 23, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a pledge to increase India’s renewable energy target to 450 GW to reduce India’s dependency on fossil fuel for energy and to combat climate change.
To achieve this target, one of the biggest obstacles is acquiring land for establishing infrastructure for renewable energy. Since proliferation of rooftop solar has been slow in India and solar development to date largely consists of ground-mounted solar, the aim of this study was to quantify the potential impacts to existing agricultural and natural lands from renewable energy development. The study also assessed if the 2022 goals can be met if the renewable energy development was constrained to lands already converted or degraded by human activities. This is the first study to have examined the potential impacts to existing agricultural and natural lands from renewable energy development if it is sited without the consideration of existing land use.
The research, conducted by The Nature Conservancy and the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP), demonstrates that there is an opportunity to minimize this hurdle. Developing energy projects on lands already degraded by human activities rather than placing new infrastructure within natural habitats or areas of high agricultural production would reduce the cumulative impacts on land and minimize land use conflicts. The good news is that India’s already degraded lands have the potential to generate more than 10 times our 2022 renewable energy target.