the initiative. Solar panels and mini-hydro generators are joined by thousands of greenhouses with trombe walls (sun-facing walls within the greenhouse that absorb heat during the day and radiate it out again at night), which will extend the short growing season and improve nutrition and livelihoods; solar dryers and agricultural pumping systems are aiding food production; metallic solar dish cookers are saving kerosene; and solar passive architecture is enhancing space heating. ‘It’s a holistic approach to energy and sustainability,’ says Takpa.
And it doesn’t end there. According to MNRE’s director, Dr Parvind Saxena, the project has much broader implications. ‘The harsh environment makes it the perfect test case for the technology itself, as well as for future policy: to prove to the government and the public that renewables have a valid role to play,’ he explains.
CLIMATE TARGETS This role is particularly important, given India’s promise to cut carbon emissions by a quarter by 2020. As the world’s fourth-highest emitter of greenhouse gases, with a 65 per cent dependence on thermal (coal) power generation, India is in desperate need of clean energy. Taking large hydro (21 per cent) out of the equation, renewable energy accounts for about
12 per cent of India’s grid-connected power capacity. MNRE hopes to double this figure by 2017.
At present, wind is India’s dominant renewable energy source – it currently represents the world’s third largest market. Solar is the second largest after the USA, and the sector is heavily incentivised. By 2017, the government expects to sell solar-generated electricity at the same rate as that produced using fossil fuels, something already broadly achieved for wind, biomass and small hydro sources. Small hydro generation distributed through local micro-grids is a growing niche, perfect for remote and hilly Himalayan regions such as Ladakh.
At the moment, India’s rapidly growing population is plagued by energy insecurity and power shortages. In July last year, the world’s largest grid failure left 700 million Indians without electricity. Off-grid renewable plants were broadly unaffected, which helped to focus attention on the smaller off-grid solar market.
The government estimates that two thirds of the 400 million households still living without electricity will need to be served by off-grid solutions. ‘Maximising the utilisation of renewable energy sources for providing energy access is imperative,’ says Dr Farooq Abdullah, the Indian minister of new and renewable energy.
PREVIOUS SPREAD: a stand-alone solar photovoltaic installation in the remote village of Shayok; ABOVE, CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT: a commercial greenhouse with a solar passive wall gives farmers an extended growing season; solar thermal water heating technology in Leh; a hydro project at Alchi will harness the power of the Indus River to deliver up to 45MW of electricity
26 | September 2013