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Scaling up solar power in India calls for better land use planning – report

As deployment of renewable energy gains momentum in India, the government should improve planning processes to reduce potential conflict over land, says the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

The Indian government must develop a policy and planning framework to make land available for renewables while also safeguarding ecologically important regions, advises a report from research organisation the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

Solar panels at the Fortum Solar Park in Karnataka state, India, January 2020. (Photo by Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images)

India has sufficient land available for all the renewable energy it needs to reach net zero by 2050, but electricity generation can compete with alternative land uses, such as ecological conservation, and risks causing conflict that slows the energy transition.

The report estimates between 50,000km2 and 75,000km2 of land in India will be needed for solar energy alone, representing 1.7–2.5% of the country’s surface area. Direct land use for wind power is expected to be much lower at 1,500–2,000km2.

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Clear environmental and social criteria must be developed to rate the suitability of renewable generation locations, the report advises. Comprehensive assessments against these criteria should be undertaken before any projects or tenders are considered.

Additionally, the government could advance the deployment of floating solar on artificial bodies of water where water quality is suboptimal, it suggests.