The National Solar Energy Federation of India (NSEFI) will launch the ‘India Agrivoltaics Alliance’ in Delhi on Monday, to “bring together all stakeholders across the value chain in the solar and agricultural sectors, including industry associations, research institutes, financial institutions, think-tanks, civil societies and farmer producer organisations.” 

The alliance is supported by India Climate Collaborative (ICC) and Bloomberg Philanthropies, Subrahmanyam Pulipaka, CEO, NSEFI told businessline today. 

Agri-voltaics is the “in-thing” in the solar industry; it refers to the practice of putting up solar panels at a certain height and with such an architecture as to allow cultivation of crops underneath them. Pulipaka says the federation is convinced that there is a net gain in agri-voltaics, when the additional costs are compared with the incremental gains from both solar and agriculture.

Agri-voltaic projects

A few agri-voltaic projects have happened in India, but they don’t amount to much. A recent compendium of 20-odd agri voltaic projects in India, brought out by NSEFI and the Indo German Energy Forum shows that the total capacity of agri-voltaics in India is under 10 MW.

The biggest of them is that of Cochin Airport, where plants are grown under 4 MW (out of its 42 MW). The 1 MW plant of Abellon Energy in the Aravalli district of Gujarat, built in 2012, appears to be the oldest in India. Water used for cleaning the panels goes for watering the plants—turmeric, ginger, water melon and bottle gourd. The NSEFI study says that by cultivating crops between panel arrays, Abellon Energy “has achieved” 0.86 tonnes per acre of ginger with net profit of ₹75,361 per acre and 1.16 tonnes per acre of bottle gourd earning net profit of ₹5,051 per acre.

The alliance will examine agri-voltaics closely, checking out which crops are best under a given situation. Pulipaka says that companies like ITC, Nestle and Reliance, which procure agricultural produce from farmers, can also buy solar electricity. Farmer producer organisations can also put up agri voltaics. He reckons that India can have at least 10 GW of agri-voltaics, with significant benefits to farmers.