Solar Mini Grids
GS- III >> Economy >> Energy
Context: Solar mini grids can help end energy poverty of rural communities in climate vulnerable regions.
About Solar Mini Grid:
- A mini grid, also sometimes referred to as a ‘micro grid or isolated grid’, can be defined as a set of electricity generators and possibly energy storage systems interconnected to a distribution network that supplies electricity to a localized group of customers.
- They involve small-scale electricity generation (10 kW to 10MW) which serves a limited number of consumers via a distribution grid that can operate in isolation from national electricity transmission networks.
- Mini Grid can be modular and scalable (Option of Capacity enhancement of generation & distribution) so that additional generation capacity may be added in future to meet the growing electrical loads.
- Around 90% of people around the world have access to electricity, while the remaining 10% of the total do not have access to electricity.
- According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), around 180,000 Mini-Grids would need to be built to supply electricity to those lacking energy access.
- The World Bank estimates that 140,000 of these are needed in Africa.
- Reduction in usage of polluting fuels such as kerosene/diesel and biomass: This will reduce air pollution and associated heath issue.
- Increases productivity and employment opportunities: Solar PV Mini-Grid will provide energy needs during the day as well as meet lighting requirements to carry out chores during the night hours.
- This leads to increased productivity among rural people. With an increase in productivity with reliable power, local businesses can remain open for longer hours creating more opportunities for economic growth.
- Employment opportunities can be created for the local population by providing them with training in operations, maintenance of Solar PV Mini-Grid systems.
- Improves quality of life: Access to electricity helps in children’s education. Helps in assisting health workers in effectively manage and effectively address critical life-threatening medical conditions in a well-lit facility.
- It will reduce pollution and thereby reduce associated health problems. Solar PV Mini-Grid displaces expenditure on kerosene lamps and candles, besides reducing indoor air pollution over and above fire and burn risk.
- Fulfilment of commitments laid down though the country’s NDCs: Being a clean energy source, it helps in achieving NDCs, of the countries and helps to combat global climate change.
About Global Solar Facility (GSF):
- The world needs to invest USD12.5 trillion in renewable energy by 2030.
- USD23 billion in off-grid solar installations to transition to clean energy and ensure universal access to energy.
- However, current global solar investments are ~10% of what is needed to achieve net zero status.
- Global Solar Facility (GSF), a payment guarantee fund formed by International Solar Alliance to stimulate investments into solar power projects.
- A Global Solar Facility (GSF) is needed for both ‘quality’ (deepen the reach to low-income countries) and ‘quantity’ (multiply the global investments) of solar investments.
- Global Solar Facility (GSF) aims to help alleviate the constraints of contractual and financial uncertainty for solar energy.
- GSF with a fund of $100 million, aims to enable $ 10 billion in investment, providing clean energy access for 35-40 million African households by 2030.
- The Solar Facility would be operationalised to crowd in investments from various donors across the globe.
GS- III >> Environment >> Forest
Context: The Forest Conservation Amendment Act of 2023 has garnered attention due to its far-reaching implications on forest governance, indigenous rights, and environmental sustainability.
About Forest Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2023:
- Background: Post-Independence, significant forest land was declared reserved or protected. Some forested areas were excluded, and non-forest areas were included in ‘forest’ lands.
- The 1996 Godavarman case suspended nationwide tree felling, applying the Forest Conservation Act to recorded or forest-like lands.
Key Provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023:
- Scope enhancement: Introduction of a Preamble broadens the Act’s scope. Renaming as Van (Sanrakshan Evam Samvardhan) Adhiniyam, 1980 reflects its potential.
- Applicability clarity: Act, initially for notified forest land, expanded to revenue and recorded forest lands. Amendments clarify application to recorded forest lands, private forest lands, and plantations.
- Exemptions for afforestation: Proposed exemptions to boost afforestation and plantation outside forests.
- It excludes forests converted for non-forest use after December 12, 1996, and land within 100 kilo-meters of the China and Pakistan border for central government projects.
- Includes exemptions for strategic projects, connectivity, security infrastructure, and public utility projects.
- The amendment also opens avenues for initiatives like ecotourism, drawing criticism from tribal communities and human rights activists.
- New forestry activities: Addition of activities like frontline forest staff infrastructure, ecotourism, zoo, and safari. Surveys and investigations in forest areas not considered non-forestry activities.
- Climate change focus: Recognition of areas in combating climate change efforts. Aligns with international commitments like Net Zero Emission by 2070.
Some key features of Forest Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2023:
- Land under act: Applies to land declared as a forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927, or any other law.
- Covers land notified as a forest on or after October 25, 1980, in government records. Excludes land changed from forest to non-forest use before December 12, 1996, authorized by state/UT.
- Exemptions: Exempts specific land types, including areas near borders for strategic projects, security-related infrastructure, and public utility projects. Exempts forest land along rail lines, up to 0.10 hectares.
- Assignment/Leasing: Requires prior central government approval for state governments to assign forest land to any entity. Extended to all entities, including those owned or controlled by the government.
- Permitted activities: Restricts de-reservation of forests and non-forest use, with central government approval for lifting such restrictions.
- Specifies excluded activities for non-forest purposes, including conservation, management, and development of forest and wildlife.
- New additions to excluded activities: zoos, safaris, ecotourism facilities, silvicultural operations, and other purposes specified by the central government.
- Central government may set terms and conditions to exclude certain surveys from non-forest purposes.
Key issues in Forest Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2023:
- Exclusion of specific forest lands: The Act specifies certain forest lands covered by the Act, excluding those not notified before October 25, 1980, and those changed to non-forest use before December 12, 1996.
- This may contradict the Supreme Court’s intent to apply the Act to all forests, as per the 1996 judgment.
- Impact on forest cover and wildlife: Excluding land recorded as a forest in government records, but not notified before 1980, may have adverse effects on forest cover and wildlife.
- Exemptions for land changed to non-forest use before 1996 might allow non-forest activities without Act approval.
- Exemptions for border areas: Exemptions for security-related projects near borders may cover large portions of forest-rich states in the north-east.
- Delay in security projects: Delays in forest clearances for security projects are often attributed to state-level processes and compliances.
- Lack of conditions for exemptions: The Bill lacks conditions seen in previous guidelines, potentially leading to unregulated exemptions for certain projects.
- Previous guidelines included conditions like avoiding National Parks/Wildlife Sanctuaries and deeming diverted land as forest land.
- Balancing conservation and economic activities: The Bill introduces new activities conservation and economic development. The blanket exemption raises questions about the necessity for a case-by-case examination.
- Unclear purpose of zoos in forests: The Bill lacks clarity on the purpose of establishing zoos in forest areas.
Joint Parliamentary Committee recommendations:
- The Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) report, despite critical comments, was largely disregarded.
- Lack of collaborative discussions with southern states added to the concerns. Post-enactment, the Odisha government’s attempt to revoke ‘deemed forest’ status faced public backlash.
- Erosion of prior consent provision: Amendments in 2016 and 2017 mandated prior consent from tribal grama sabhas for non-forest purposes.
- The recent revision removes this necessity, leaving room for state-level steering committees to engage grama sabhas. However, preconceptions about Adivasi resistance to development hinder proactive state engagement.
- Compensatory afforestation concerns: Compensatory afforestation, outlined in the amendment, aims to streamline projects but raises environmental concerns.
- The law mandates afforestation for lost land but lacks specificity regarding tree types, allowing discretion.
- Impact on Forest Rights Act (FRA): Despite notable impacts in various regions, the Forest Rights Act faces reduced enthusiasm for implementation by both central and state governments.
- Governments opt to dilute forest areas rather than amend the FRA, limiting Adivasi claims and ignoring the growing issue of human-animal conflicts.
- Inclusive consultations: Facilitate inclusive consultations with indigenous communities, environmental experts, and stakeholders to ensure diverse perspectives are considered.
- Impact assessment: Conduct a comprehensive impact assessment to understand the potential consequences on biodiversity, forest cover, and the livelihoods of local communities.
- Refinement of exemptions: Review and refine the exemptions provided, particularly in border areas, considering the ecological significance of the regions involved.
- Balancing economic and environmental goals: Establish a balance between economic development goals and environmental conservation, ensuring that exemptions do not compromise long-term sustainability.
- Monitoring and review mechanism: Implement a robust monitoring and review mechanism to assess the actual impact of the amendments on forests, wildlife, and local communities over time.
- Transparent decision-making: Ensure transparency in decision-making processes, clarifying the criteria for exemptions and providing a clear rationale for each decision.