Renewable Energy Zones for Balancing Siting Trade-offs in India: Multi-Criteria Analysis for Planning Renewable Energy

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India's targets of 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2022, and 40% generation capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030 will require a rapid and dramatic increase in solar and wind capacity deployment and overcoming its associated economic, siting, and power system challenges. The objective of this study was to spatially identify the amount and quality of wind and utility-scale solar resource potential in India, and the possible siting-related constraints and opportunities for development of renewable resources.

Using the Multi-criteria Analysis for Planning Renewable Energy (MapRE) methodological framework, we estimated several criteria valuable for the selection of sites for development for each identified potential "zone", such as the levelized cost of electricity, distance to nearest substation, capacity value (or the temporal matching of renewable energy generation to demand), and the type of land cover. We find that high quality resources are spatially heterogeneous across India, with most wind and solar resources concentrated in the southern and western states, and the northern state of Rajasthan. Assuming India's Central Electricity Regulatory Commission's norms, we find that the range of levelized costs of generation of wind and solar PV resources overlap, but concentrated solar power (CSP) resources can be approximately twice as expensive. Further, the levelized costs of generation vary much more across wind zones than those across solar zones because of greater heterogeneity in the quality of wind resources compared to that of solar resources.

When considering transmission accessibility, we find that about half of all wind zones (47%) and two-thirds of all solar PV zones (66%) are more than 25 km from existing 220 kV and above substations, suggesting potential constraints in access to high voltage transmission infrastructure and opportunities for preemptive transmission planning to scale up RE development. Additionally and importantly, we find that about 84% of all wind zones are on agricultural land, which provide opportunities for multiple-uses of land but may also impose constraints on land availability. We find that only 29% of suitable solar PV sites and 15% of CSP sites are within 10 km of a surface water body suggesting water availability as a significant siting constraint for solar plants. Availability of groundwater resources was not analyzed as part of this study. Lastly, given the possible economic benefits of transmission extensions or upgrades that serve both wind and solar generators, we quantified the co-location opportunities between the two technologies and find that about a quarter (28%) of all solar PV zones overlap with wind zones. Using the planning tools made available as part of this study, these multiple siting constraints and opportunities can be systematically compared and weighted to prioritize development that achieves a particular technology target.

Our results are limited by the uncertainties associated with the input datasets, in particular the geospatial wind and solar resource, transmission, and land use land cover datasets. As input datasets get updated and improved, the methodology and tools developed through this study can be easily adapted and applied to these new datasets to improve upon the results presented in this study.

India is on a path to significantly decarbonize its electricity grid through wind and solar development. A stakeholder-driven, systematic, and integrated planning approach using data and tools such as those highlighted in this study is essential to not only meet the country's RE targets, but to meet them in a cost-effective, and socially and environmentally sustainable way.

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