This article is the second part of a series how solar is affecting different critical sectors in India. The first article addressed solar’s impact on India’s water usage.
Solar power is one of the most versatile forms of energy, with boundless potential, if tapped wisely. Solar can be a game changer for the agricultural sector, saving precious water resources, reducing dependency on the grid, and even becoming an additional revenue stream for farmers.
India is an agrarian economy and even now providing a proper power supply to farmers is a big task. Per the NITI Aayog, across India only nine states have segregated electricity feeders (separating the electricity infrastructure from agricultural and non-agricultural users), and several large agricultural states have still not begun the process. Out of the nine states that have segregated agricultural power feeders, four — Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, and Madhya Pradesh — have achieved or are close to achieving 100 percent segregation. Others, such as Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, and Tripura still have significant ground to make up, while no data is available for Haryana’s achievement in segregation. Given the dual benefits of feeder segregation for farmers and rural households, and the national push towards reliable electricity supply in rural areas, it is critical for the remaining states to implement this reform in a timely fashion.
Feeder segregation has two key benefits. First, by allowing independent control of power supply to farms and to non-farm users (households, hospitals, etc.), it ensures that non-farm users are not affected by surges in agricultural demand. Since farm electricity can be switched off and controlled without affecting non-farm users, they receive reliable, uninterrupted electricity throughout the day. Consequently, the second benefit is that farmers can be promised a window for reliable electric supply instead of erratic power throughout the day, allowing them to irrigate in a targeted and effective manner. The Indian government is pushing this agenda through DDUGJY (Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana), the country’s $12 billion rural electrification program.
Vast swathes of land in India have to be irrigated through pumps powered by electricity, this is a big ask from the distribution companies (DISCOMs) that are already burdened with debt. To provide continuous power supply even for a few users, DISCOMs have to further strain their resources.
Agricultural demand for electricity is one of the largest burden on India’s power sector as irrigation systems are largely undeveloped and farmers are dependent on electricity to power their pumps. Solar can mitigate this entire portion of demand by generating power at the source and converting users into suppliers. Even if each farmer uses a small parcel of land for a solar system, it will be sufficient for their needs, all while taking the burden off DISCOM’s shoulders.
Studies it has also been found that the same land that is being used for a solar project can also be used for farming. Agriculture has taken a toll on the grid and on the finances of DISCOMs as successive governments have waived bills or provided huge discounts to farmers for political gains. Now that solar prices are competitive with coal, it can change this trend and even reverse it by turning farmers into solar power producers.
With small solar projects on farmland, farmers can save water by reducing their reliance on coal-powered electricity, reduce burdens on the grid by utilizing their own clean power, and sell the surplus back to DISCOMs. It is a win-win-win for everyone: farmers, DISCOMs and the climate.