Using solar power for agriculture would bring a multitude of benefits for all stakeholders | Image: EnergyNext

Leveraging the water-clean energy nexus is win-win for Indian agriculture

A new study published by Auroville Consulting has estimated that a well-planned integrated approach towards energy and water consumption in agriculture across Tamil Nadu could save the state Rs. 1,23,797 crores over a 20-year period. The paper identifies interconnectedness of water, energy, land and livelihood or the “WELL nexus” in India’s and Tamil Nadu’s agriculture and proposes integrated management approaches to maximise efficiency.

According to the paper, “leverage points” in the nexus could effectively be used to derive solutions to the state’s growing water and energy deficits. The study estimates increases in efficiency and savings through combinations of interventions that include introducing (i) grid-interactive solar PV, (ii) energy efficient pumps (EE), and (iii) advanced irrigation technology (AI) at the farm level. The study proposes that better planning and integration in agriculture would do away with massive water shortages faced by farmers and electricity costs borne by the state while also cutting down emissions associated with agriculture and creating several million new jobs. Authors also note that benefits could be further enhanced by supplementing these interventions with incentives to reduce consumption or government-backed energy buy-back schemes. Interestingly, one such scheme to enable sale of farm produced solar energy to the government was recently announced by power minister R.K Singh in the Lok Sabha.

The estimates in the study have been prepared based on virtual case study of a 5-acre banana farm that was used to derive baseline values for costs, consumption, wastages and emissions. Simulations for five different conditions including the business as usual (BAU) and various combinations of interventions such as solar PV and energy efficient pumps were run for the same farm conditions and comparative results were prepared. The largest benefits by far were registered in the integrated approach that combines solar PV energy, energy efficient pumps and advanced irrigation technologies. According to the paper, the integrated approach on the virtual farm would increase farmer income by over 60 per cent in the first year while reducing the cost of free electricity supplied by over 90 per cent in the first year.

The study further extrapolates the results to arrive at state-wide estimates and finds that the state would save Rs. 6,387 crore in just avoided costs of free electricity in just the first year. Over a 20-year period, this number would escalate to a mindboggling Rs. 1,23,797 crore. Further the study estimates that over 20 years, the integrated approach could eliminate 253 million tonnes of carbon emissions, reduce water consumption by approximately 27,406 billion litres or about 45 per cent, reduce energy demand for agriculture from 2,52,080 MU to 48,525 MU, and enable export of about 4,33,080 MU surplus solar energy to the grid. It further increases the farmer income on account of increased crop yield while also creating up to 16 million new jobs.

While benefits have been found in the study to outweigh the costs by multiple factors, the authors do note that the benefits still hinge on a substantial capital investment of up to Rs.1,32,512 crore. While the investment is steep, the study argues that with the support of appropriate subsidies and incentives, a payback period of up to 5 years is achievable.

The study is particularly pertinent for Tamil Nadu which released its solar energy policy in February this year. According to the policy, the state aims to achieve state-wide capacity of 9000 MW by 2023, of which 5400 MW is expected to come from the utility category and the remainder from consumer-driven sources such as rooftop solar. Incidentally, while these lofty aims hinge heavily on utility companies for generation and distribution, state-run Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Company (TANGEDCO) just last month stopped floating tenders for solar and wind farms citing inability to assure returns to investors.

Download the report here.

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