Nowadays Mega solar parks are the new trend worldwide and India too is not an exception. It helps to achieve the target set by the Govt of India to mitigate carbon emission. With Net Zero Targets by 2070, alternative sources of electricity generation from non-fossil like Solar with other renewable sources like wind, offshore wind etc., are in focus.
All renewable sources also have their malefic impact including solar. It’s time we take into reckoning these negative impacts too and address them proactively. In future the adverse impacts should not pose a major challenge for mankind like global warming now. The manufacturing of solar panels involves several stages that may contribute to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Some of the main sources of GHG emissions in solar panel include:
Emissions during Manufacturing & Transport
Solar panels are environment friendly but not without carbon footprints because their manufacturing involves mining, high temperature heating/melting, and cooling cycles of different components/materials. The manufacturing of solar panels involves the use of many chemicals and materials, such as silicon, cadmium, lead, and various solvents, which can have potential environmental negative impacts. Production of solar PV also involves energy from fossil fuels. As of now, India does not have SPV manufacturing capability, but it’s a promising area for big business houses. It is time for Indian Govt., to investigate this aspect and frame a suitable policy and set targets for the same. The transportation of materials and finished solar panels can also contribute to GHG emissions, if the materials or panels need to be transported over long distances.
Huge Transmission Infrastructure
Solar parks are often located in remote areas, far from population centers, which can make it challenging to transmit the electricity generated to where it is needed. Building new transmission infrastructure can be expensive and time-consuming, and there may be challenges in coordinating with different government agencies and stakeholders. Rooftop solar in contrast could provide for a cost-effective alternative obviating the need for huge transmission infrastructure in a distributed generation regime.
It is estimated that for India to achieve its NDC target of Net Zero approx. land requirement for renewable resources is 2-2.5% of India’s total available land. Mega solar park requires a considerable amount of land to function effectively, and in some locations, this can lead to deforestation, habitat loss, and wildlife displacement which creates ecological imbalance. It is not uncommon for land aggregators to buy land from small farmers at lower rates and sell to business houses and make huge profit ultimately it’s a loss to farmers. Availability of Land will become a major issue for mega solar parks in near future. The alternatives of roof top solar and floating solar panels may be attractive alternatives to Solar Parks.
Solar panels have a useful lifespan of around 25-30 years as per manufacturer (but it’s seen that panels did not achieve even 15 years of life due to different environmental impacts) and will eventually need to be disposed of. Currently, there are few viable disposal options for solar panels, which are not practical solutions for huge quantity of panels produced in recent time. Recycling process can be challenging, can lead to a build-up of waste.
In future recycling of solar panel will become a potential area for profiteering. Some panels contain hazardous materials like lead and cadmium, which require careful recycling and disposal. As per International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA’s) official projections “large amounts of annual waste are anticipated by the early 2030s” and could total 78 million tonnes by the year 2050. An estimate of 90 tonnes per MW weight-to-power ratio. A guideline and standard for disposal of solar panels must be laid out, so that the material does not end up in landfills contaminating soil & water.
Heat Island Effect
Solar panels can absorb and radiate heat, resulting in local temperature rise, a phenomenon known as the “heat island” effect. Western Rajasthan is facing this issue. Scorching temperatures, infertile soils, limited water supplies, and frequent windstorms make the Phalodi township in India’s Thar desert an inhospitable place for inhabitants.
PV plants alter the way that incoming energy is reflected to the atmosphere or absorbed, stored, and reradiated because PV plants change the albedo, vegetation, and structure of the terrain. Temperatures over a PV plant were regularly 3–4 °C warmer than wild lands at night. To mitigate this, solar arrays can be designed with integrated vegetation or greenery, which can help to reduce the impact on local microclimates. Additionally, careful planning and site selection can help to minimize the impact of solar arrays on local microclimates and the heat island effect.
Although the cost of solar panels has decreased over the years, the initial purchase and installation cost can still be relatively high, making solar energy more difficult to access for lower-income households. Because of high-cost component, Roof Top Solar did not receive the anticipated response from society. Installing a 1 kW solar panel system typically costs between INR 50,000 and INR 70,000, a significant amount for people fall under BPL.
Increasing the adoption of rooftop solar panels an alternative to large solar parks in India requires a multi-pronged approach involving government policies, incentives, awareness campaigns, and technology innovations. Like National Highway Authority working out the Hybrid Annuity model for risk and revenue sharing through Public Private Partnership to build highways and bridges across the country Roof Top Solar too require innovative risk and revenue sharing models to take off.
Mega solar parks did not create employment for local unskilled labour, which creates unrest among farmers and other project-affected persons who sold their lands for solar mega parks. Construction time for Solar Plant is approx. 20 months local labour gets employment during construction period only, after that there is no scope for employment in the park. This has dawned on people with time, consequently solar plants are facing huge issues of protest from local people.
Overall, while solar parks have the potential to increase renewable energy production in India, it is important to address the challenges in a sustainable and equitable manner, with the involvement of all stakeholders.
- Protests in Gujarat against corporate projects that threaten people’s livelihoods and damage the environment – Frontline (thehindu.com)
Rajendra Jat has 15 plus years of experience in Indian Power Sector presently working as Senior Manager Renewable Engineering and CDM Group of NTPC Green Energy Limited (NGEL), which is a 100% subsidiary of NTPC.
Dr. Bibhu Prasad Rath is a highly experienced Additional General Manager with 33 years of experience in the power sector, specializing in Energy, Environment, and Economics, robust foundation in operations, design, procurement, feasibility, policy formulation, investment decisions, and carbon credits. Currently, he is on deputation to Ministry of Power, GOI. He obtained a Ph.D. in Business Administration from Aligarh Muslim University and published numerous papers in various journals and conferences on actionable issues of climate change, sustainability, heartfulness, decision making and leadership.