Public sector agencies, local administrations, civil societies, technologists and green financiers have to come together for development to be effective
Climate change is here, and unfortunately those most vulnerable are the lowest emitters of carbon. As glaciers melt in the Zanskar Valley of Ladakh, entire villages are being relocated, their livestock dying, and food and water becoming scarce. This has been made worse by the absence of energy in the Valley, especially for heating where temperatures reach up to -45°C, and families continue to rely on traditional stoves and yak wool for warmth.
Carbon Neutral Ladakh is a dream initiative launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with the creation of Ladakh as an independent Union Territory two years ago. Multiple large-scale development programmes are being deployed by the various energy PSUs, with the local administration having limited capacity to set the agenda. The Ministry of Power has eventually brought together projects across PSUs and built an aggregate portfolio of renewable energy initiatives being undertaken in the region. This will go a long way in avoiding overlap and directing efforts towards a common goal of carbon neutrality.
The Zanskar Valley is expected to be connected to the national grid, but it’s a few years away. Meanwhile, the Valley is primarily dependent on diesel generators, especially in the winter when their hydel projects freeze. Currently 4-6 hours of electricity with a cut-off of 2.3kWh per day is being provided, barely sufficient to provide lighting needs and costing the government about Rs26/kWh of diesel, at least five times higher than solar. Household surveys further revealed suppressed demand for appliances like televisions, refrigerators, microwaves etc., especially in houses offering homestays.
To address this, Convergence Energy Services Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of The EESL (Energy Efficiency Services Limited) Group of Companies, owned by Central Public Sector Undertakings under the Ministry of Power, Government of India, has designed a five-year solution that provides battery-based storage facility for solar energy to distribute during evening hours and the winter. Initiating with a 5MW pilot with 18MWh of storage, the solution will ultimately be scaled to 29MW of generation. This initiative will be supported by the local renewable energy authority, which has installed a number of solar projects. A 10-year old mini-grid project had an exceptionally well maintained set up, managed by a village-based committee, which took Rs100-150 from the houses every month. This built local ownership and the committee also engaged with the administration to replace batteries when they discharged.
Innovations by local institutions are also equally critical in bringing long term and sustainable change towards the carbon neutral journey of the region. Ladakh is a cold desert with exceptional solar radiation, which has been optimised by the well-known Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh, an alternative learning school whose architecture comprises south-facing rooms and glass windows with layered insulation and black painted walls that create a greenhouse effect such that no external heating infrastructure is installed in the building. CESL also partnered with local organisations to understand future energy needs and identified trained persons locally to provide long-term maintenance.
The project meets Sustainable Development Goals for climate action and access to clean energy as well as improved livelihood opportunities, better healthcare, longer hours for education and reversal of migration during the winter season. Environmental benefits of over 40 kilo tonnes per year of carbon dioxide reduction will be achieved by the 29MW project. This pilot will also be a unique energy storage initiative at sub-zero discharge rates that will enable off-grid communities to access energy during winter and evening hours switching from diesel, cow dunk and other non-clean sources of energy.
In the 75th year of India’s independence and on the eve of the 50th World Environment Day, we hope to create access to heating and regular electricity with clean energy in one of the most energy poor and climate change vulnerable communities of the world.
Snigdha Verma is Head, Front Office, at Convergence Energy Services Limited