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Green power for the faithful

The shrines of Kashmir are getting a green boost, as the government embarks on an ambitious plan to harness solar power for meeting their energy requirements. Haroon Mirani reports.

Srinagar, Jul 31, 2013:

With generous subsidy from Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Solar energy is already lighting up two famous shrines Chrar-i-Sharif and Kheer Bhawani.

“The two plants of 15 kw each are already fully functional and are proving a great help to the pilgrims,” said D P Dhar Assistant CEO of Jammu and Kashmir Energy Development Agency (JAKEDA), the organisation implementing the solar program.

Kheer Bhawani in Ganderbal receives around 100,000 pilgrims throughout the year whereas Chrar-i-Sharief in Budgam gets around five times more.

The continued light after the usual electricity blackout has been a pleasant welcome for both caretakers as well as pilgrims that too without the annoying sound and noxious fumes of diesel generators.

A third solar power plant is in final stages of completion at Hazratbal shrine, the most visited Kashmiri shrine on the banks of Dal Lake in Srinagar.

“The Hazratbal plant is of 20 kw capacity, and would be operational soon,” said Dhar.

Although it won’t meet the 100 per cent power requirement of a big shrine like Hazratbal, with energy consumption soaring above 100 kw, officials say it still makes a huge difference particularly in lighting.

“Regarding the capacity, we could have easily increased it but then we have to make a balance between space requirement for hosting devotees and space needed by solar plant machinery,” said Dhar.

Buoyed by the success of solar power plants at these shrines, JAKEDA is now going full throttle in its second stage.

“In the next phase we are now going to install these solar plants at around 12 shrines in the state,” said Dhar. “Currently we are busy in their tendering process and other paper work.”

The first ever shrine to go green in J&K was Vaishnodevi shrine in Jammu. The most visited shrine of the state installed a Solar Water Heating (SWH) System with 5000 litre per day capacity and a 5 KW Solar Power Plant way back in 2010. These two projects were set under Special Area Demonstration Projects Scheme of Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. The projects have been working according to the expectations and the demonstration helped gain the experience to be repeated at other such places.

The need for solar power arose at Vaishnodevi as the shrine was witnessing frequent electricity black-outs. The colder environment also necessitated hot water facilities for pilgrims. Heating of water increased the electricity bill of the shrine manifold. The shrine governed by Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, in a bid to redress both the problems decided to go solar in 2010. The new source of energy was a great success.

The system was further upgraded in 2012 by increasing the capacity of SWH system to 32,000 litres per day. The construction at the difficult place had to overcome many hurdles. According to K N Satyanarayana, Business Development manager of Nuetech Solar, "it was a challenging task lifting the system atop 5,000 feet and took 7 days to lift the entire system from the base station Katra." Solar emergency lights were also installed under this initiative.

The devotees have been benefiting by getting dependable hot water for their ritual baths from this huge system. To make sure there is no hiccup and hot water is available 24X7, the board has installed 6 kw electric back-up heater for every 1000 litre capacity. With board getting 60 per cent subsidy from central government, it is now studying the ways to install more such systems. They have already invited tenders for another SWH system having additional capacity of 21,500 litres of hot water per day. It already comprises of biggest SWH system of the state.

In 2012 Vaishnodevi received a record number of pilgrims peaking at 1,04,95,269. This year it is expected more.

The solar lighting initiative is not being limited to shrines only. The government is mulling to cover places like hospitals, universities, colleges and places of other public utility. People living in off grid villages are also being given special preference with solar lighting.

“Under Remote Village electrification programme, we have covered 224 villages and 15 hamlets,” said Dhar. “Together with a subsidy component, we provide them a complete solar home lighting system of 37 watts.”

During the last three years the MNRE headed by Farooq Abdullah has sanctioned over 50000 solar home systems for the un-electrified villages and hamlets of the State.

State hospitals comprise of next area of attention for JAKEDA to be covered under non-renewable energy.

Feroz Ahmed Khan, minister for Science, Technology and Information Technology recently inaugurated a 20 KW solar power plant at Sarwal Hospital in Jammu. The solar plant installed by the JAKEDA of the science and technology department at a cost of Rs 49 lakh is expected to augment the hospital's power requirement round-the-clock.

“The government was keen to harness new and renewable energy potential in the state and use it as an instrument to improve the socio-economic condition of people,” said Khan.

Prior to that, an 18 kw solar power plant was also inaugurated at Sub District Hospital Charar-i-Sharief in Budgam district jointly by the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah and the Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy, Farooq Abdullah.

The Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has approved 69 solar power plants to be installed in as many hospitals throughout the state. With a cumulative capacity of 1.09 MW, these plants will act as dependable backup power supply units for these hospitals in this energy deficit state.

“This involves an amount of Rs 32.70 crore,” an official spokesman said. “The tenders for 32 such units have been finalised and for the remaining units the process is going on.”

At five sub-district hospitals of the state, the ministry has approved solar-wind hybrid systems. Two systems, one each at SDH Ganderbal and SDH Narbal are already running. The remaining three are being installed at SDH’s at Banihal, Dera ki Gali and Akhnoor. “The cumulative capacity of these units is 46.4 kW,” said Dhar.

Educational institutes are also being covered under a special drive. “We are installing solar power plants at 107 Community Information Centres throughout the state,” said Dhar. “It will have a total capacity of 905 kW.” 12 solar plants have already been made functional in as many CIC’s.

Three 100 KW SPP’s at Polytechnic College Gogjibagh, Islamic University Awantipora, Government Polytechnic for Women Bemina are fully functional and proving a great help to these institutes, who otherwise had to suffer from black outs for hours on a daily basis.

Unable to exploit its water resources the water rich state is reeling under a huge power deficit. Against the requirement of 2500 MW of electricity, the state barely manages to supply 1500 MW’s. In winters the supply plunges to as low as 870 MW.

With state getting an average of 300 sunny days, the concerned ministry has big plans for extracting maximum benefit out of it. The Union ministry being held by Farooq Abdullah is also being seen as an advantage for the state.

(This article has been written under the aegis of CSE Media Fellowships 2013.)

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