Light on Ladakh

Finally, Kargil and Ladakh too have got their sunshine moments. The two hilly terrains will soon be known as housing the world's largest single location solar photo voltaic plant

Light on Ladakh
Light on Ladakh

The picturesque mountainous terrain in northern most part of India may so far be remembered with pride for a war well fought, but if things move the way it has been envisaged, the same Kargil and Ladakh will soon be known as housing the world’s largest single location solar photo voltaic plant, again with a sense of pride. Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI), under the union renewable energy ministry, is promoting 5,000 MW (mega watt) and 2,500 MW solar power projects in Ladakh and Kargil. With its mammoth power generation capacity, solar project at Ladakh will become the world’s largest single-location solar photo-voltaic plant. The much-hyped solar power projects in Ladakh and Kargil are scheduled to be completed by 2023 with a total capital outlay of Rs 45,000 crore, top Solar Energy Corporation of India Ltd (SECI) officials said.

SECI has already issued a Request for Selection (RfS) for the development of 7,500 MW of grid-connected solar power projects in Leh and Kargil districts of Jammu & Kashmir. The total capacity of 7,500 MW has been divided into three packages of 2,500 MW each.  The package-A will be set up in the areas tentatively identified in Zanskar sub-division and Tai Suru block of Kargil district. Packages B and C will be developed at Hanley Khaldo area of Nyoma sub-division in the Leh district. The brief scope of work includes the implementation of the solar power projects along with the setting up of power transmission and evacuation infrastructure up to the delivery point.

Going by the plans, the Ladakh project will be located at Hanle-Khaldo in Nyoma at a 254 km off Leh. The power generated by the project will go to Kaithal in Haryana for which a 900 km line will be laid mostly along the Leh-Manali road. The Kargil project, on its parts, will be built 254 km away from district headquarter at Suru in Zanskar. The project will be connected to the power grid at New Wanpoh near Sri Nagar.

Things are moving fast on the ground as well. The Leh and Kargil administrations have designated 25,000 and 12,500 acres of non-grazing land, respectively, at prices remunerative for the hill councils. They will also earn a rental of around Rs 1,200 per hectare per annum with 3 per cent annual increase.

Quite significantly, the move to put up the world’s largest single location solar power project in a difficult terrain coincides with yet another engineering feat by the State-run transmission utility- Power Grid, which has made it possible for India’s northern most areas in Jammu & Kashmir to plug into the national electricity network, bringing thereby ‘one-nation-one-grid’ closer to reality. Few days ago, PowerGrid and J&K power department switched on the Alusteng-Alunday stretch of the 350-km Srinagar-Kargil-Leh transmission line tracing some of the world’s highest mountain ranges and inhospitable terrains separating the Kashmir Valley from the frontier districts of Ladakh and Kargil.

The project, aptly branded as a milestone for the country, is expected to dramatically improve the quality of life with 24X7 power supply in the strategically important region, which sees long and harsh winters with temperature dipping to 50 degrees below freezing. Assured power supply is expected to energise economic activity and employment through winter tourism. Environment will get respite from millions of litres of diesel that is burnt by the defence and civil establishments to run generators.

It is pertinent to mention here that this particular region (Leh and Kargil) have been sourcing power from two NHPC hydel projects since 2013. These two hydel plants had been strategically built in order to exploit the potential of Indus before it flows into Pakistan. They had so far been running at sub-optimal levels in the absence of grid connectivity. The Srinagar line will allow the stations to run at full capacity, feeding surplus power into the northern grid during summer and draw 100-150 MW in winter. The new line will also help Ladakh-Kargil region emerge as India’s power house by allowing evacuation of power from proposed solar projects with aggregate capacity of 7.5 GW. Mind you that Ladakh and Kargil have remained 95 per cent power deficit regions.

The two developments may have come almost 72 years after the Independence, but the thought process behind a ‘Vision for Ladakh’ can be traced back much earlier. Ladakh, a society in transition and isolated from the rest of the world for much of its existence before it was thrown open to mass tourism in the mid-1970s, is now caught in a whirlwind of change. The need to evolve a framework that allows Ladakhi people to seamlessly integrate the old with the new was felt long back and that in turn, gave rise to need for formulation of the Ladakh 2025 Vision Document. The other reason for developing a Vision for Ladakh was based in the rapid decline that this region’s resources – natural, and also social & cultural.

Significantly, in 2014, during its last days, the UPA-led government had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Jammu and Kashmir government to harness close to 7.5GW of solar power generation capacity -- 5GW in Ladakh and the rest in Kargil. However, inter-departmental tussles and lack of clarity on other issues scuttled the project.

When the Vision for Ladakh was drafted, energy formed an integral part of Ladakh’s physical infrastructure set-up. However, it was realised that the energy scenario in Ladakh at that point in time was far from good. There was a great shortage of power in the region, constraining the development of all other sectors in turn. Whatever little power was available was generated mostly from fossil fuels that used to be imported from outside the region since Ladakh did not have any reserves of such resources. This arrangement threw up a host of problems, including environmental degradation and economic unsustainability to mention a few. Besides, it was extremely difficult to supply power to such far-flung areas from a central grid, and that too under a messy administrative set-up.

Therefore, the way forward for Ladakh with respect to its power and energy requirements, was clearly thought to be in the field of renewable energy sources. The potential for solar and micro-hydel generated energy exists in abundance in Ladakh, and even geothermal and wind energy possibilities are present in certain pockets. Policy makers thought that these sources should be tapped to the maximum possible advantage. Mind you that the Ladakh 2025 Vision Document was formulated on June 9, 2005.

The Vision Document advocated strongly tapping renewable energy sources available in the region to the maximum possible advantage and the strategies recommended in the document included – Laying emphasis on renewable energy, tapping the potential of solar energy, using micro-hydel projects to their best advantage, exploring geothermal and wind energy possibilities, obtaining best machinery and expertise to develop renewable energy in Ladakh. Since Ladakh is deficient in fossil fuels, they cannot be made the basis of meeting its energy requirements.

Interestingly, there is no doubt whatsoever that solar energy is obviously the most potent form of renewable energy that Ladakh can tap for its needs. The document suggested aiming to cover all Ladakhi homes (100 per cent coverage) with solar home lighting systems. Solar energy can be used for photovoltaic purposes such as lighting and pumping, as well as for taking care of thermal needs through the use of solar architecture and water heating systems. Solar experts feel that a solar building code needs to be evolved for Ladakh by an authority on solar architecture. Micro hydel projects also hold a lot of promise for Ladakh, as has been borne out by the CEA studies. Several policy measures need to be adopted to accelerate capacity addition from hydro-electricity projects. These include collection of hydraulic data from all potential sites by the department of irrigation, forwarding all languishing power projects to the MNES for funding, installation of stand-alone micro hydel projects (with solar and wind backup) in remote areas of Ladakh, and identification of new projects for future work.

Late though, the latest move by the current dispensation is expected to dramatically improve the quality of life with 24X7 power supply in the strategically important region, which sees long and harsh winters with temperature dipping to 50 degrees below freezing. Assured power supply is expected to energise economic activity and employment through winter tourism. Environment will get respite from millions of litres of diesel that is burnt by the defence and civil establishments to run generators.

For these solar projects, SECI will enter into power purchase agreements (PPA) with the successful bidders for a period of 35 years. The bidders can avail the fiscal incentives like accelerated depreciation, concessional customs and excise duties, tax holidays as available for such projects.

The deadline for commissioning of the project is 48 months from the effective date of the PPA. The maximum time period allowed for commissioning of the full project capacity is limited 54 months. Solar energy experts think that the high-altitude Himalayan region has huge potential for solar power generation. And once finally, the transmission network is extended till Punjab, a distance of about 850 km, as proposed, it would be even better.

It’s not just in Ladakh, Ley, Kargil, the current government has taken many steps in order to boost the renewable energy sector, predominantly the solar space. Not just in the country but in overseas market as well. A few among the major steps taken by the Central Government includes – Taking active part in fulfilling its commitment towards COP21 accord; taking lead role in the formation of International Solar Alliance; putting ambitious target of achieving 227 GW of renewable energy capacity by March 2022; spreading awareness globally about opting renewable energy to reduce carbon emission; taking decision on safeguard duty; transparent bidding; low tariffs etc. However, on the domestic front, industry is dealing with various issues and seeks more clarity on issues like, Goods and Services Tax (GST), Safeguard Duty etc.

At a time when the ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE) seems to be on course to reach a cumulative wind capacity target of 60 GW by FY2022, a globally leading job portal has suggested that there has been a surge of interest in jobs in the renewable energy sector in India. If a recent study by Indeed, one of the top job sites in the world with presence in more than 60 countries, is anything to go by, the solar energy sector in India is leading the race with an increase of 76 per cent in the number of job searches between 2014 and 2018-19.

“With the introduction of the Central Government’s Scheme for the Development of Solar Parks in December 2014, various parts of India have seen the installation of solar plants, making the solar energy sector account for one of the highest generation capacities in the Indian electricity grid,” the Indeed study said.

It added, “In recent years, India’s increasing efforts towards the expansion of renewable energy have led to a substantial increase in solar power generation, through the setting up of several solar parks and solar power projects. In 2017, India saw itssolar power generation capacity cross 21.5 billion units (BU) of electricity. At the same time, there has been an increase in job searches for solar design engineers by 404 per cent, solar project engineers by 332 per cent and solar electrical engineers by 169 per cent between October 2014 and October 2017.

Quite interestingly however, the wind energy sector, which is largely complementary to solar in India, saw only a 28 per cent increase in the number of job searches during the same time period, according to Indeed study. This is notwithstanding the fact that MNRE along with the distribution utilities in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have awarded wind-power capacity of 7.6 GW over the past 15 months and another 10 GW each are proposed to be awarded in FY2019 and FY2020. The project awarded so far are expected to improve the capacity addition in the wind power segment to about 3-3.5 GW in FY2019 against 1.7 GW in FY2018.

Talking about the solar sector, in particular, after a lull, the month of December 2018 witnessed a huge surge in tender announcements, nearly nine times more than the 1.4 GW tendered in November 2018. This was also the highest capacity tendered during the entire 2018, according to Mercom’s India Solar Tender Tracker. According to the tender trajectory issued by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), approximately 30 GW are expected to be tendered in FY 2018-19. So far, over 40 GW have already been firmed up. While these announcements are positive for the industry, the markets must wait to see if these tenders will turn into auctions. Auction activity also increased in the month of December with over 2 GW auctioned, compared to 61 MW auctioned in November 2018. On the whole, this impressive improvement in tender activity can be attributed to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE)’s goal to implement 23 GW of ultra-mega solar projects in the Leh and Ladakh regions of Jammu & Kashmir, India’s largest tender so far.

Major Tenders The Solar Energy Corporation of India Ltd. (SECI) issued a tender for the development of 7.5 GW of grid-connected solar power projects in Leh and Kargil districts of Jammu & Kashmir. The total capacity of 7.5 GW has been divided into three packages of 2.5 GW each. SECI also issued a tender to set up 1.2 GW of ISTS-connected solar PV power projects (ISTS-III) and 1.2 GW of ISTS-connected wind-solar hybrid power projects (tranche-II) to be developed across the country. The Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (MSEDCL) issued a tender to set up a 1 GW (100 MW X 10 clusters) grid-connected floating solar PV power project on the Ujjani dam in Solapur district, setting the upper tariff limit at C3 ($0.043)/kWh. With this, Maharashtra is fast becoming a frontrunner in the floating solar category.

The Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Limited (GUVNL) has issued a Request for Selection (RfS) for the purchase of 1,000 MW of power from grid-connected solar photovoltaic power projects located in Dholera Solar Park (phase V).

The last date for submission of bids is February 15, 2019. The technical bids will open on February 16, 2019 and financial bids will open on February 22, 2019.

The GUVNL will enter into power purchase agreement (PPA) with the successful bidder for a period of 25 years from the scheduled commercial operation date of the project. The total capacity of 1,000 MW has been divided into 20 plots (50 MW x 20) in the solar park and the project will be developed on Build-Own-Operate (BOO) basis. A bidder will be allowed to place a bid for a minimum of 50 MW capacity or in multiples of 50 MW. The tariff quoted by bidders will be single and uniform for all the plots and capacity irrespective of the number of plots and capacity quoted by the bidder.

Vikram Solar, one of India’s leading module manufacturers and a comprehensive EPC solutions & rooftop solar provider, claimed a 140 MW solar plant project from National Thermal Power Corporation Limited (NTPC). The location selected for the project is Bilhaur, Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India.

A 700 acre area has been allotted for the project, and the solar plant is expected to successfully satisfy the electricity demand of the area. NTPC has plans to install 225 MW solar plant in UP and Vikram Solar has been selected to commission the first allotment of 140 MW project. The project is expected to be completed by September 2020 (as per tender guidelines).

NTPC, on its parts, has also issued a tender inviting bid for the development of 15 MW Floating Solar PV project at its Koldam Hydroelectric Power Plant (HEPP). Eligible bidders will be involved in a Single Stage Two Envelope bidding process under  International Competitive Bidding (ICB) followed by Reverse Auction.

The brief scope of work will include the Design,  engineering,  manufacturing,  supply,  packing and forwarding,  transportation, unloading storage, installation, testing and commissioning of Solar Photo Voltaic Plant based on open category PV modules and cells. Supply of floaters, Installation, anchoring, fixing of floaters for SPV panels, pathways corresponding to 19.5 MW system. Installing the SCADA  system for remote monitoring and control of  Inverters with all hardware  & software.

Besides, the winning bidder will be responsible for the successful operation & maintenance (O&M) of the SPV Plant along with electrical equipment, consumables and spare parts for a period of 3 years from the date of successful completion of the trial run.

From Ladakh, Kargil in the north to down south- there are many such developments all across the country.

It’s sunny side up, for sure!