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Ladakh’s giant leap in renewable energy

The Moon land is taking a giant leap towards energy self-sufficiency by harnessing renewable sources. Provided right conditions, Ladakh can become energy exporter too. Haroon Mirani reports.

Srinagar, Sep 05, 2013:

The Buddhist spiritual leader Dalai Lama on his recent visit to Ladakh couldn’t suppress his amazement, as he saw the massive strides, this region has made in renewable energy sector.

“You have set an example for the country and the world,” Dalai Lama told Ladakhi officials.

Dalai Lama, known for his views on issues like climate change and sustainable development, commended the authorities for promoting use of clean energy to meet the needs of this ecologically sensitive region.

He gladly accepted to inaugurate the 10 Kw Solar Photovoltaic (SPV) power plant at Choglamsar, the Summer Palace of the Spiritual Leader in Leh, thus becoming part of the green drive too.

Ladakh has been focus of renewable energy development for a long time. But the sector got a boost when government of India launched its flagship programme, Ladakh Renewable Energy Initiative Project (LREI) in off-grid renewable energy development in 2011. The programme now in final year of implementation is deemed to be the largest project of its kind in the world.

The three and a half years project worth Rs. 473 crores had a huge difference in this moonland.

The project envisages developing 11 micro-hydro projects with a total capacity of 11.2 MW, 125 solar-photovoltaic power plants of varying capacities, , solar water heaters for 40% of the building in Leh, 3000 solar greenhouses, 4500 solar cookers, solar driers, solar passive housing projects and ground based heat pumping for space heating.

Ladakh remains cut off from the rest of the world for upto six months as the vital passes get blocked by heavy snowfall. The region is off the national grid as mighty Himalayan Mountains make it difficult to lay a transmission line. This leaves the only choice of either using the diesel generators or exploiting locally available resources. Earlier they had been relying on the ‘former’ and now ‘later’ is taking a lead courtesy LREI.

The project when completed is expected to alleviate the longstanding problems of energy shortage and save the tremendous cost in sustaining the energy sector on this the area.

According to Jigmet Takpa, Project Director, LREDA, the implementing agency for this project, “we have distributed over 15,000 such solar lights on market mode, thus covering more than 70% of the households of Leh from the year 2011.”

The officials have combined LREI and other government schemes in a way to maximise benefit for the local population. “For solar water heater under National Solar Mission, we provide a capital subsidy of 60 percent upto 100 LPD (litres per day) capacity,” says Arif Kakpori, project engineer. “And for above 100 LPD capacities, 50 percent subsidy for domestic and 40 percent subsidy for commercial establishments is provided under LREI.”

For govt. buildings and hospitals, there is a provision for subsidy upto 90%.

The response has been tremendous particularly in hot water systems. LREDA has commissioned more than 6,000 sq m of panels (50 percent in domestic and 50 percent in commercial) in this type.

The present installed capacity of solar water heating in Ladakh presently amounts to 6 lakh LPD. Work is progressing on number of such systems with the capacities ranging from 100-3000 LPD. By the end of 2013, LREDA hopes to increase the water heating capacity to 10 lakh LPD.

Solar based cooking has been another focus area for LREI. For ages Ladakhis have been using scarce firewood to cook their meals. Firewood has its own health and environmental problems. The provision of cooking gas and electricity is grossly insufficient.

LREDA has been systematically working to introduce solar dish cookers to homes. LREI provides a subsidy of Rs 3,000/ sq m of solar dish cookers.

Not only domestic, but solar cookers have made inroads in number of commercial and educational institutes too.

The Students' Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) campus in Leh is fully solar.

Four arrays of 16-24 panels each generate electricity for lighting, computers and TVs. The campus has two solar cookers and an indigenously developed low tech water heater for bathing.

Jawaharlal Navodaya Vidyalay is another success story which uses 15 solar cookers to provide 600 meals per day to its students. LREDA has commissioned more than 2,000 sq mt of dish cooker area and more is in the offing.

In case of water heating alone, LREDA estimates the solar thermal systems are saving 500,000 liters of kerosene annually. The solar cookers save an additional 16,000 tonnes of scarce firewood per year.

As the awareness is increasing, so is the demand. In the next two years LREDA is hopefull of commissioning 25 concentrated solar power (CSP) steam cooking plants, 10,000 solar dish cookers and 1,000 solar food dryers, under various schemes.

The cost factor has also played a vital role in popularising the solar energy in Ladakh. Authorities have ensured that the cost of products like durable lights should be affordable to villagers. On the other hand the rising fuel cost has made the renewable energy more profitable for government too.

On the completion of the project, Ladakh is expected to save 35 lakh litres of diesel. Besides CO2 emission will reduce by 27.3 lakh tonnes annually.

Ladakh has a substantial geothermal potential too. Takpa, who also coordinated survey of Puga location, estimates its potential to be between 50-150 MWs. Work on an experimental 3 MW geothermal project is currently underway at Puga.

LREI has a provision of Rs 266 crores for 30 Micro Hyrdo power projects with a total power generation of 23.7 MWs. The projects in the capacities of 150 kW to 3 MWs, would be completed by the end of 2013. Ladakh is expected to save 20 million litres of Diesel fuel annually once these projects go online.

Why Ladakh

Ladakh is a unique region, where one can find the best parameters for efficiently exploit solar energy. The region receives sunshine over an area of 86900 sq kms for about 320 days a year. The radiation level in Ladakh is 6 to 7 kWh/m /day, which is the best in the country and one of the highest found in the entire world. The photovoltaic technology is best suited for harnessing solar energy, as the cells work more efficiently in a cold climate. There is no problem of heat dissipation in solar panels, a common problem that reduces efficiency.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah while chairing the latest meeting to discuss ways for exploiting the generation potential of solar power in Ladakh and Jammu regions, said that Ladakh alone has identified potential of generating 12000 MWs of electricity.

The unidentified potential is many times more. “Conservatively speaking it is more than ten times,” says Dr. Prithvi Raj Dhar, Asstt. CEO, Jammu and Kashmir Energy Development Agency. “There is an added benefit that Ladakh being desert has miles and miles of open space.”

Excited by this enormous potential J&K is currently drafting its first ever J&K State Solar Power Policy. Abdullah said that the policy will give further fillip in developing renewable energy sources of the state.

The only thing that has been preventing companies from investing billions in this lucrative business is the absence of any system to evacuate the power from Ladakh to the national grid.

The long proposed 375 km Srinagar-Leh transmission line can be a game changer for the state.

Union government in its current budged has approved the construction of a 220 kV power transmission line between Srinagar and Leh at an investment of Rs 1,840 crore.

The proposed line passing through Kargil, Drass and Khalsi was first approved wayback in 2003.

Earlier the main aim of this line was to supply power from National grid to Ladakh, but now the equations seem to be changing. If the current trend continues, the line is well poised to supply green energy from top of the world to Indian plains. The line can trigger the next gold rush.

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

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