The Pros and Drawbacks of the World’s Largest Solar Park





Photo of a construction vehicle driving in a solar panel farm.

Image: Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Illustrations or photos

It’s 10 a.m. and Indian peanut farmer Venkeapream is calming at his relatives compound in Pavagada, an arid region north of Bangalore. The 67-12 months-aged retired three decades in the past on leasing his land to the Karnataka condition governing administration. That land is now aspect of a 53-square-kilometer place festooned with tens of millions of photo voltaic panels. As his fields yield carbon-cost-free electrical power, Venkeapream pursues his enthusiasm complete time: participating in the electric powered harmonium, a portable reed organ.

With a capability of 2 gigawatts and counting, Pavagada’s arrays signify the world’s major cluster of photovoltaics. It is also 1 of the most thriving examples of a solar “park,” whereby governments supply numerous businesses land and transmission—two major hurdles that gradual solar improvement. Solar parks account for substantially of the 25.5 GW of solar capacity India has additional in the past 5 a long time. The states of Rajasthan and Gujarat have, respectively, 2.25-GW and 5.29-GW solar parks below way, and Egypt’s 1.8-GW installation is 1 of quite a few new intercontinental initiatives.

Alas, even as they velocity the expansion of renewable electrical power, solar parks also concentrate some of solar energy’s liabilities.

Sheshagiri Rao, an agricultural researcher and farmer primarily based in the vicinity of Pavagada, states lease payments give peanut farmers this sort of as Venkeapream a steadier revenue. But Rao states shepherds who held traditional rights to graze their fields have been fenced out without payment, and a lot of have sold out. In Venkeapream’s village, flocks at the time totaled 2,000 to 3,000 sheep. There are now only about 600 still left.

The continual will need to retain dust off the panels, in the meantime, has place far more strain on currently overtapped groundwater provides. Nearby farmers carry h2o to clear the far more than 400,000 panels at the Pavagada web-site of Indian electricity developer Acme Cleantech Methods. “At least 2 liters of water is needed to clean up a person panel. This is substantial,” suggests B. Prabhakar, Acme’s internet site supervisor. Robotic dusters allow for Acme to thoroughly clean just 2 times a thirty day period, but most operators lack these types of products.

Then there are the energy surges and drops designed as clouds move more than Pavagada—generation swings that ought to be countered with coal-fired and hydropower plants. Balancing renewable electricity swings is a escalating obstacle for grid operators in Karnataka, which leads India in solar capacity and also has extra than 4 GW of variable wind electric power.

Karnataka capped new photo voltaic parks at .2 GW soon after launching Pavagada. Analysts heralded the state’s apparent shift toward dispersed installations, such as rooftop solar systems, through a November 2019 conference on sustainable power in neighboring point out Tamil Nadu. As Saptak Ghosh, who leads renewable power programs at the Bangalore-centered Middle for Analyze of Science, Technologies & Policy (CSTEP), set it: “Pavagada will be the conclude of significant solar parks in Karnataka. Lesser is the future.”

Just a couple of days later, though, information broke that Karnataka’s renewable vitality arm was buying land for 3 2.5-GW solar megaparks. The state’s transfer may well mirror force from the countrywide government to speed up solar installations, as effectively as assurance that Pavagada’s shortcomings can be set.

Alternatively of harming shepherds, for instance, solar operators could open up their gates. Grass and weeds rising amidst the panels pose a severe fireplace risk, in accordance to Acme’s Prabhakar. Significantly, operators in other countries count on sheep to preserve vegetation down.

Greater-tech alternatives may well finally tackle Pavagada’s water consumption and cloud-induced electricity swings. Israeli robotics firm Ecoppia is already providing what it phone calls “water free” cleansing at the Pavagada site operated by Fortum, a Finnish energy firm.

Karnataka’s remedy for electrical power swings at its new megaparks, meanwhile, is to plug the parks straight into the nationwide grid’s biggest ability traces. The trio of crops are a joint task with the nationwide-government-owned Solar Vitality Corporation of India, and designed to export renewable electrical energy to other states. Energy stations outside of Karnataka will balance the solar parks’ technology, according to Ghosh’s colleague, CSTEP senior investigation engineer and electricity-grid expert Milind R.

India’s govt is keen to aid, possessing promised to increase renewable potential to 175 GW by March 2022 and to 450 GW by 2030. As Thomas Spencer, investigate fellow at the Vitality and Assets Institute, a New Delhi–based nonprofit, pointed out at the November conference in Tamil Nadu, India is “well off the track” for meeting both target.

This post appears in the February 2020 print concern as “India Grapples With Broad Solar Park.”

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