Co-location opportunities for renewable energy and agriculture in Northwestern India: Tradeoffs and Synergies

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 5:24 PM
Sujith Ravi1,2, Jordan Macknick3, David B Lobell1, Christopher B Field1,4, Karthik Ganesan5, Rishabh Jain5, Michael Elchinger3 and Blaise Stoltenberg3, (1)Stanford University, Environmental Earth System Science, Stanford, CA, United States, (2)Temple University, Department of Earth and Environmental Science, Philadelphia, PA, United States, (3)National Renewable Energy Laboratory Golden, Golden, CO, United States, (4)Stanford University, Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford, CA, United States, (5)Council on Energy, Environment and Water, New Delhi, India
Solar energy installations in arid and semi-arid regions of India are rapidly increasing, due to technological advances and policy support. Even though solar energy provides several benefits such as reduction of greenhouse gases, reclamation of degraded land, and improving the quality of life, the deployment of large-scale solar energy infrastructure can adversely impact land and water resources. A major challenge is how to meet the ever-expanding energy demand with limited land and water resources, in the context of increasing competition from agricultural and domestic consumption. We investigated whether water consumption for solar energy development in northwestern India could impact other water and land uses, and explored opportunities to co-locate solar infrastructures and agricultural crops to maximize the efficiency of land and water use. We considered energy inputs/outputs, water use, greenhouse gas emissions and economics of solar installations in northwestern India in comparison to Aloe vera cultivation, a widely promoted land use in the region. The life cycle analyses show that co-located systems are economically viable in some rural areas and may provide opportunities for rural electrification and stimulate economic growth. The water inputs for cleaning solar panels and dust suppression are similar to amounts required for aloe, suggesting the possibility of integrating the two systems to maximize water and land use efficiency. A life-cycle analysis of a hypothetical co-location indicated higher returns per m3 of water used than either system alone. The northwestern region of India is experiencing high population growth, creating additional demand for land and water resources. In these water limited areas, coupled solar infrastructure and agriculture could be established on marginal lands, thus minimizing the socioeconomic and environmental issues resulting from cultivation of non-food crops (e.g. Aloe) in prime agricultural lands.