Solar technology to bring warmth in Ladakh homes

Winter is coming! As monsoon fades away from northern parts of India, the cold winds from the Himalaya bring fresh snow in the Ladakh region of Jammu & Kashmir, India. Clouds hardly reach here making the region an arid snow desert. Temperatures here in winter match with Siberia. The home of snow leopards experiences freezing cold of -30 degree Celsius. Snow as high as 1o feet cut the area from the rest of India for more than 5 months. The climatic conditions along with lack of basic infrastructure turn the harsh conditions into pathetic winter nightmare. Electricity has reached here only a few years ago and many remotest corners of Ladakh are yet to see light on cold dark nights. With the push of renewables by PM Modi, things are about to change.

India’s solar push has been massive success globally. We now plan to generate about 30% of our electricity from renewables by 2022; that makes a whopping 25 Gigawatt capacity solar electricity generation targets. A soon-to-be manufacturing giant, India wants to present its ecological image towards the world by adhering to the Paris accord. India already has the largest solar electricity generation park in Kamuthi, Tamil Nadu with a capacity of 648 MegaWatt. International Solar Alliance, a brainchild of PM Modi brings a common platform for cooperation among sun-rich countries lying fully or partially between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn who are seeking to massively ramp up solar energy, thereby helping to bend the global greenhouse emissions curve whilst providing clean and cheap energy. The alliance includes 80 countries that support the common declaration. International Solar Alliance plans to mobilize USD 1 trillion for solar energy.

The sun is the source of all energy. The world must turn to solar, the power of our future. – PM Modi

The push by India at an international forum has caught an attention of multi-national companies. A joint venture of Bharti, Foxconn and SoftBank bagged 500 MW auction in Rajasthan at mere Rs. 2.44 per unit. Rates below Rs. 3 per unit in solar auctions are now considered normal making solar electricity generation in India cheapest. Solar energy is now reaching the remotest parts of India.

Ladakh is sun rich belt which receives plenty of sunshine, over 300 days of clear skies in a year. Solar stations already present in the area exclusively supply power for lighting purposes. A new project supported by Department of Science aims to change that, by installing solar panels to provide room heating and water heating.

Scientists have fabricated solar panels that could withstand harsh environmental conditions that prevail in upper reaches of Himalayas. These panels have been deployed in the Zanskar valley area to meet energy needs of people living there. The panels have been designed to provide either warm water or help heat up the people’s homes. They work on the simple principle of solar energy absorption by black coated galvanised iron sheet and aluminium alloy pipe coil through a normal window glass to heat the water or the air. The new solar panels cost Rs. 10,000 for water heating and Rs. 5,000 for space heating. The water heating panels can provide 100-120 litres of hot water daily on sunny days. The space heating panels can blow air that is heated to a maximum of 65-70 degrees Celsius and continue to keep enclosures warm in the evening.

The project has been implemented by the Shimla-based Himalayan Research Group of the Ministry of Science and Technology. A total of 158 panels have been transported from Mandi in Himachal Pradesh traversing eight mountain passes including Tanglangla – the second highest motorable pass in the world at an altitude of 17, 582 feet.

At present, the residents of Zanskar burn cow dung to cook food and generate heat. Women had to spend nearly three to four hours every day in smoke. With the induction of the solar technology, this drudgery would be saved. In addition, it would mitigate the pollution problems caused by burning of dung indoors. It is estimated that diseases related to indoor pollution kill nearly 5 lakh people every year in India.

– Chaitanya Kulkarni

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