India increased its solar capacity 15-fold from 2014 to 2021, with solar power becoming a fast developing industry in the country as part of the renewable energy sector.
As the world celebrates Sustainable Energy Day on Sunday, the solar energy sector in India is expected to witness record expansion as the government has targeted an increase in the installed solar capacity to a staggering 270 gigawatts by 2030.
However, the expansion comes at potential ecological and human costs and may negatively affect the environment and biodiversity.
To achieve the goal, governments of various states have recently commissioned floating solar photovoltaics projects.
However, according to ecologists, photovoltaics can set off a chain reaction in water bodies, causing damage to aquatic life, leading to a shift in the ecology.
Solar power generation requires vast stretches of open lands blessed with year-round sunshine. The lands are staggeringly diverse and support native vegetation including grass, herbs and shrubs.
Ecologists have recognized the catastrophic effects of renewable energy on fauna in the northern desert state of Rajasthan and other states.
In Rajasthan, at least seven critically endangered Great Indian Bustards have died since May 2017 after coming into contact with high-power transmission lines that connect solar and wind farms to grids, according to the Rajasthan-based NGO ERDS Foundation.
Despite damage to the environment, India needs to drastically increase its renewable energy capacity to meet its net-zero targets.
- 'Don’t rush into things'
Shruti Sharma, Senior Energy Policy Advisor, India, International Institute for Sustainable Development, told Anadolu Agency that climate change is already creating severe and irreversible ecological effects and investing in solar energy is key to mitigating global climate and environmental change.
The harmonized life cycle of greenhouse gas emissions from solar and wind technologies are minimal when compared to fossil fuels and are further decreasing with rapid advancements in solar manufacturing technology, according to Shruti.
Utility-scale solar farms can be implemented to minimize ecological impacts and land-use change, like using degraded land to install solar plants or using areas of land for solar panels and agriculture.
“But with the rising share of clean energy in the energy mix, we need to address the waste generated, not only from solar panels but also from other energy sources, like batteries for electric vehicles. This is an opportunity for India to have a dedicated photovoltaic waste management and recycling policy for sustainable use,” she said.
Local forest-dwelling residents should not be displaced in the quest for solar energy, according to environmentalists.
Ranjan K Panda, Convener at Combat Climate Change Network, said the lands of indigenous forest-dwelling people should not be taken over to promote green energy sources.
“Local ownership of forests is very important. If a corporate house takes control of everything then we will not be able to promote green energy,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Panda said in some places, lands rich in biodiversity have been declared degraded wasteland to make way for solar energy projects which should be avoided.
“Don’t rush into things and study should be done to see the impact of solar projects on local ecosystems and local communities which have been dependent on it,” he said.
Green energy should promote green jobs and that is only possible when ownership of land is given to local communities, according to Panda. “We should invest more in rooftop solar projects and that is another way to promote green energy.'
“A community should not be deprived of resources it depends on for sustenance,” said Panda. “By protecting a water body or forest, the local community is actually doing a big service to a fight against climate change. It is good that we want to promote renewable energy and going solar is good for India but Indian conditions should be very properly integrated into new ambitious plans.”
By Shuriah Niazi in New Delhi