Solar Energy in Ladakh is Helping (Re)Build Communities
Here’s another feather in its cap – tourist magnet Ladakh has been assessed to hold immense solar potential to power its remote villages.
Blessed with pristine landscapes and lots of sunshine throughout the year, Ladakh boasts of one of the highest solar insolation rates in the country (at an annual average of nearly 5 kWh/m2). It also has ample land to offer (the lack of available land has been a concern for project developers in other parts of India).
Ladakh is no stranger to solar PV systems. Nestled in the northeast of Jammu and Kashmir, the region has seen several small and community-scale projects come up in recent years. Ranging usually from a few kW to a few hundred kW, these projects have often been financed by foreign donor agencies such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as through support from the MNRE and the state government.
Projects are usually implemented by collaborating with local development organizations such as the Ladakh Ecological Development Group (LeDEG). The energy generated (primarily through solar PV systems) powers lights and small machines within communities, who otherwise would have to rely on the highly inefficient and polluting practice of burning fuelwood.
One such project was completed in the Durbuk block of the region in 2007, where a 100 kW (4 x 25 kW) community solar PV system was set up with assistance from the India Canada Environment Facility (ICEF), the MNRE and the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC). Among other deliverables, the project provided electricity to power lights (after dark) as well as wool spinning and carding machines used by the community.
As a result, the community’s output of handmade wool products increased significantly, providing employment to its women with an added source of income.
Solar Energy in Ladakh: a Bet on the Future
The project was further extended with the help of USAID, which trained local youths in running the solar power plant and in the maintenance of solar lanterns. It’s important to understand that these energy projects and capacity building exercises add immeasurably to communities that remain cut off from the rest of the country for most parts of the year.
Also, after the August 2010 cloudburst tragedy that hit Ladakh’s capital city – Leh – and its surrounding areas, passive solar heating in the form of solar walls and large windows helped heat temporary accommodations, which would otherwise again have to rely on fuelwood and biomass burning to see off the valley’s bitter winters. Combined with energy efficiency measures, solar energy therefore played an important part in the region’s reconstruction activities.
All this, of course, is just the beginning of an enormous solar revolution in Ladakh. There remain many communities without access to grid electricity, which has severely curtailed their socioeconomic development. Only the widespread adoption of solar energy (coupled with other renewable energy technologies) promises to change misery into productive livelihoods.