Learnings for Tamil Nadu From Grid-Connected Agricultural Solar Photovoltaic Schemes in India
Our paper studies the design and performance of three schemes Suryashakti Kisan Yojana (SKY) in Gujarat, Surya Raitha Scheme in Karnataka, and the Solar BLDC Pump Pilot in Andhra Pradesh—that predated the launch of KUSUM’s Component C in Tamil Nadu. The objective of this paper is to highlight the learnings from the schemes in these three states, which could prove useful to stakeholders in Tamil Nadu, especially discoms and the state’s Renewable Energy Development Agency in the lead-up to operationalizing Component C.
Eighteen percent of the electricity consumption in India powers the agricultural sector and is subsidized (fully or partially). Electricity distribution companies (discoms) bear the brunt of supplying subsidized power as the rate of cost recovery from farmers is low, with delayed/ inadequate payments from the government.
- Reducing the need for subsidized electricity by solarizing irrigation pumpsets can decrease the burden on discoms and government, prevent wastage of energy and water resources, and incentivize efficient use. The Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (PM KUSUM) scheme was launched by the Government of India to solarize agricultural activities in all states and to drive the change toward economic and environmental sustainability.
- Tamil Nadu has issued an order to implement Component C (focused on solarization of grid connected pumpsets at the individual farm level) of KUSUM. We reviewed schemes similar to Component C that were piloted in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat, to share learnings with Tamil Nadu.
- We propose recommendations that could facilitate successful implementation in Tamil Nadu: assess the adequacy of the feed-in tariff, work with the local population to avoid water-inefficient agriculture, and develop a robust monitoring and evaluation framework to periodically assess and plan for course correction and improvements.
- Scheme Design: The schemes across the states worked with a net-metered solar-PV-based pumpset installed on a farmer’s field. The solar capacity of the installed system (in kilowatts, kW) was permitted to be greater than or equal to the installed capacity of the pump (in horsepower, hp). The actual permitted value varied across the three states.
- Feed-in tariff (FiT) is also an important part of the scheme. It has the potential to decide the additional income that farmers can earn by exporting excess electricity into the grid and their potential behavior toward water conservation. In general, a value lower than the average cost of supply (ACoS) for the discom was considered.
- Financing for the scheme was initially envisaged as a combination of government (union and state) subsidies and farmer investments, but the latter ended up being taken up by the state itself.
Raising financial contributions from farmers was a major challenge across all states. As mentioned earlier, these were subsequently taken up by the state. Winning the confidence of farmers in solarization was challenging considering the politics around metering of irrigation pumpsets. Another challenge was the lack of confidence in solarized pumpsets due to observation of poor or failed experiences with earlier attempts to deploy off-grid solar PV pumpsets. Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of the scheme was a challenge due to non-standardization of the equipment and the lack of training given to farmers to read the meters. In the case of Karnataka in particular, one of the major challenges was the selection of the wrong target region to implement the scheme. The Harobele region, which falls under the Arkavathy river/dam area, has no groundwater scarcity and belongs to the water-intensive sericulture belt, where the value generated by irrigation is high. The FiT offered to the farmers through the scheme was, therefore, not enough for farmers to change their water extraction patterns.