Land suitability assessment for distributed solar energy, Villupuram District

Land is a finite resource with competing and conflicting use. Unplanned and unscientific use of land can exacerbate climate change, and disasters like drought or floods. Judicious use of land resources is key in meeting the state’s social, economic, and environmental development goals. A comprehensive land suitability assessment can guide responsible and sustainable development practices and land-use policies.

As per its intended Nationally Determined Contribution under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, India is targeting 50% of its cumulative power generation capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030. Tamil Nadu has announced that it aims at adding an additional 20 GW of solar energy capacity by the year 2030. This capacity addition is envisioned to be primarily achieved by distributed solar energy generation.

One of the key challenges in developing solar energy project is the identification of suitable lands and land acquisition. The complex land acquisition process can lead to project delays or even cancelation of proposed projects. Unused or fallow lands can be of particular interest for solar energy development. This method avoids the uptake of land under productive agricultural use. Local authorities can proactively facilitate solar energy development in the district by identifying unused lands and by undertaking a solar suitability assessment of these lands. This geospatial information if provided to solar developers and electricity distribution companies has the potential to spur local economic development and to create green jobs.

The objective of this report is to identify unused lands in Villupuram district and to evaluate to what extent these unused lands can be utilized to meet the state’s solar energy capacity addition target of 20 GW by the year 2030. Deploying 20 GW of ground mounted solar energy will require approximately 80,000 acres of land, this represents 0.25% of Tamil Nadu’s total geographical area (TGA).

Villupuram, district has a total geographical area of 3,907 km2 of which 1,092 km2 or 28% has been classified as unused or fallow lands. The district’s solar energy target has been set as a proportional share of the state’s solar energy capacity addition target of 20 GW by 2030. The district’s target is to add 0.62 GW of solar energy by 2030. This requires a land area of 2,465 acres. The land suitability analysis revealed that 92,149 acres of unused land have a technical potential for ground mounted solar energy development. These lands are distributed over 3,084 plots. The suitable lands identified can accommodate up to 23.04 GW of solar capacity, this would help achieving a whooping 3,738% of (or 37 times) the district’s solar capacity addition target.