Let's visualise the sheer expanse of one of India's largest solar parks, the Pavagada Solar Park in Karnataka. An aerial view of the site shows a never-ending sea of glass panels and wires spread across 13,000 acres. That is about 1/4th of the size of Kolkata city.
Then there are smaller solar and wind power plants too. Some are even a fraction of the Pavagada solar plant. These power projects that harness unlimited sunlight and wind need another critical resource, a limited one… land.
Land is essential to install solar panels, wind turbines and transmission lines. And in a country such as India, land is scarce. Most of the land has a human footprint. It could be private or community farmland. Or it could be the village pasture where cows and sheep graze, or it could be a parcel of land that's considered sacred for centuries and worshiped by communities.
In the race to achieve clean energy targets, the pressure falls on such land parcels beyond city boundaries and the people who depend on them. It's well acknowledged by the government, renewable energy companies and all stakeholders in the sector that land availability and acquisition are critical challenges in renewable energy projects.
On the other hand, communities risk losing rights and access to land with unfair or no compensation. So how sustainable and just are clean energy projects in their current form?
Listen to GigaWhat and explore some of the biggest questions, challenges, and opportunities in India's transition from fossil fuel to clean energy sources.
Mongabay-India is an online publication dedicated to bringing you stories on science and the environment in India.
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Karthik Ganesan, Fellow and Director of Research Coordination, Council on Energy, Environment and Water
Mrinali Karthick, Database and Collaborations Lead, Land Conflict Watch
Leo Saldanha, Environment Support Group
Sikari Rongpi, farmer, Mikir Bamuni
Kawe Ingtipi, resident, Mikir Bamuni
Land Conflict Watch database
The Anatomy of A Solar Land Grab
Letter from the solar company
Host: Mayank Aggarwal
Writer and producer: Kartik Chandramouli
Additional reporting: Nabarun Guha
Audio editor: Tejas Dayananda Sagar
Copy editor: Priyanka Shankar
Additional voiceover: Saumitra Shinde
Podcast production assistant: Ayushi Kothari
GigaWhat cover art designer: by Pooja Gupta