Australia is a huge landmass with an incredible amount of sunshine, so should our farmers be able to farm the sun’s rays?
This is what is currently taking place in India, with the world’s largest solar farm being built in agricultural Karnataka in south-west India.
The Karnataka Solar Power Development Corporation is building the solar farm, known as the Pavagada Solar Park, which will see solar panels spreading over 13,000 acres of land and over five villages.
The solar farm will generate 2,000 megawatts of electricity, a figure that translates to approximately 4 per cent of Australia’s total energy needs.
Farmers leasing their land increases their income
In order to build the solar farm, more than 2,300 Indian subsistence farmers are leasing their land to the energy company and making more income than they can make through traditional farming.
Each farmer will be paid 21,000 rupees per acre per month, a figure that equates to approximately $420.
This rental income is more than double their income from farming and the Indian government is fully supportive of the project.
The Government of Karnataka’s Minister for Energy, Doddalahalli Kempegowda Shivakumar said: “We have set the goal to source at least 20 per cent of people’s power requirements from renewable projects”.
“This ambitious project, spanning five villages, looks at farmers as the key partners and also as the beneficiaries. The Pavagada Solar Park is creating new job opportunities,” the minister said.
‘It is a model that could work in Australia’
Tim Buckley, Director of Energy Finance Studies at the Institute for Energy, Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) said the collaborative model could work for Australian farmers.
“It is a model that could work in Australia, but because of the size of Australian farms the energy companies would not need to negotiate with any more than one or two farmers, instead of the 2,300 farmers like in India.”
“We wouldn’t need farms on that scale, and on a large pastoral property a medium-sized solar farm would not impact on the grazing operation,” he said.
Renewable energy projects are growing
Forecasts are also firming up about how rapidly renewable energy is growing throughout Australia.
Green Energy Market’s Tristan Edis in Melbourne is forecasting Australian solar installs would treble to possibly 3.5GW in 2018.
He also estimates there are 4,960MW of renewable energy projects under construction right now across Australia in wind and solar combined.
And almost all of that growth is occurring in regional Australia.
Mr Buckley said Premier Anna Palaszczuk recently boasted there were 3,000 construction jobs being generated right now just in Queensland renewables.
“But it is not a single solar company, there are something like 20 projects currently underway there alone,” he said.
“That is the scale of the employment we are seeing already in Queensland around some of these projects.
“And to put it in perspective this is three times the amount of solar generation plants that were built in 2017.”
Tom Burmester from The Australia Institute has done a study on renewable energy jobs backing up the view that renewable energy was already creating jobs.
He said the Australia Institute research shows that, depending on what policy settings were put in place, between 10,000 and 35,000 jobs would be generated by renewable energy projects.
Mr Buckley said this was all happening despite a reduction in the renewable energy rebate scheme.
“It is counterintuitive to drop in government assistance but business and the big corporates are increasingly going with solar and other renewables,” he said.