The World Economic Forum annual meeting last month revealed some startling facts about India and the world’s economy. The Oxfam survey highlighted that the richest one per cent in India accounted for 73 per cent of the wealth generated in the country, showcasing the worrying trend of income inequality.
Recommendations to alleviate this included promotion of labour-intensive sectors and investment in agriculture sector.
The trend in India is the promotion of large solar parks with capacities more than 250 MW, at each location, in bigger states.
The official solar park target has been increased to 40 GW. Recent tenders for these parks have driven the tariff down to less than Rs 2.50/unit, making solar cheaper than coal. However, rooftop photovoltaic (RTPV) systems, which are expected to contribute 40 GW as well, have still not taken off in India and need a boost.
Ground-mounted PV solar projects require around four-five acres of land per MW, and 120,000 to 200,000 acres of land are required to meet the 40 GW solar park target. Most of the proposed solar parks have faced issues when it comes to identification and acquisition of land.
The common practice today is to identify land with low agricultural yields and then lease them out from farmers for 25-30 years at an annual rate of Rs 20,000-Rs 30,000/acre.
The problem here is that 40 GW of solar parks will result in 160,000 to 200,000 acres of land lying unutilised below the PV panels.
Moreover, farmers will only receive a marginal increment in their revenue. Is there a way then, to optimise the usage of land, whilst increasing the farmers’ revenues significantly?
Enter, the polyhouse. A polyhouse is an enclosed space where a variety of plants can be grown perennially by controlling the ambient temperature, humidity, air flow and lighting conditions. Polyhouses are a proven concept in India; enterprising farmers have reported five-fold increases in agricultural yield and resultant revenue per acre of land.
Central and state governments also encourage polyhouses by providing 40-60 per cent capital subsidies on polyhouse investments made by farmers.