Editorial✍ Financial Express Prelims cum Mains

How solar energy can catalyse India’s agricultural energy transition

Inefficient energy consumption in agriculture:

  • The current energy consumption pattern of India’s agricultural sector is mired in inefficiency.
  • India’s agricultural sector is responsible for the consumption of over 18% of overall national electricity usage, while its contribution to the GDP in just over 5%.
  • This discrepancy has been prevalent since the 1970s, when the Green Revolution was on.
  • Due to subsidized electricity at night:
    • Irrigation usually happens quite late at night, due to the practice of supplying subsidised electricity to farmers during the midnight hours.
    • This is done with the intent of reducing the strain on the electricity grid which experiences daytime loads from rest of the activities  .
    • This practice inadvertently leads to increased water and energy wastage, as the pumps run throughout the night.
  • The energy wastage is compounded further, with disruption in farm yields and significant delays in irrigation of farms. For example, an area that could be irrigated in 24 hours, ends up taking almost 4-5 nights to irrigate completely.

Also leading to heavy losses to Discoms:

  • Well-intentioned reforms like subsidised electricity supply have had the adverse effect of increasing the energy strain even further.
  • Low-tariffed or free-of-cost electricity has instead led to mounting losses for the distribution companies (discoms).
  • Electricity theft has emerged as another area of concern and has been on the rise due to non-metered electricity usage in the agricultural sector.

 

Agricultural sector’s demand set to rise:

  • The agricultural sector’s electricity demand is set to double over the next decade owing to rising irrigation demand for larger cropped areas, newer crop varieties and rising mechanisation.

Need sustainable solutions:

  • The continued agricultural subsidies will lead to piling losses for discoms, along with disruption of the entire energy value chain.
  • We need to provide the requisite energy to the sector, albeit in a more sustained manner.
  • For this, there is a need for introducing focused measures.

For this two challenges need to be overcome:

  • There is a need to ensure that farms receive uninterrupted electricity supply during daytime.
  • Simultaneously, discoms must be protected from heavy losses while meeting the rising electricity demand from the agricultural sector.

 

Solar energy can provide the solution:

  • Solar energy is driving India’s energy transition and can provide a greener energy avenue for the agricultural sector.

Solar agri-feeders:

  • The first step towards the adoption of solar energy is solar agri-feeders installed by discoms to transmit energy to farms.
    • A solar agri-feeder is a 1-10 MW community-scale solar power plant and is linked to a substation.
    • The plant requires around five acres of land and a single 1 MW plant can power around 350 pumps of 5-HP.
  • Discoms can support farms when the power supply from the feeders is low due to sporadic sunlight, and can even use excess electricity produced by the feeders in case of low irrigation demand.
  • These agri-feeders can provide largely uninterrupted and sustainable 8-10 hours of electricity during the day.
  • Thus, solar agri-feeders have great utility for the agricultural sector.

Advantages:

  • Lower subsidies: They enable reduction of agricultural subsidy and do not require capital subsidies of their own, from the government.
  • Scalability: These also offer scalability, as a large number of small solar power plants can be swiftly installed in the open or unused land of substations across the country.
  • Lower costs: These feeders also eliminate the need for significant infrastructural costs, due to new large transmission lines, which is a challenge faced by large-scale wind and solar deployments.
  • Affordable and sustained power supply for the agricultural sector during the day is made possible.
  • Discoms benefit immensely from this approach, as the mounting losses from agri-electricity subsidies are mitigated to an extent, which enables in reducing overall losses.
  • Improved energy access to other sectors: Lower agricultural demands from discoms also have the domino effect of enhancing energy access and affordability for industrial and commercial use. This is due to decreased dependence of discoms on the higher tariffs imposed on the industrial sector.
  • Reduced emissions: India’s 2 crore electric and 75 lakh diesel irrigation pumps contribute 26 million metric tonnes of greenhouse gas, which is 5% of the nation’s total emissions. Solar agri-feeders can help alleviate this considerably.

 

Conclusion:

  • The remarkable utility and viability of solar farm feeders is potentially significant.
  • It also finds definite relevance in the government’s roster of energy sector interventions such as smart metering, renewables proliferation, energy-efficient pumps, and pan-India energy access.

 

Importance:

GS Paper III: Indian Economy

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