The government of India has once again floated the idea of setting up a large solar power project in the Ladakh region of its northernmost state of Jammu & Kashmir. The region receives the highest solar radiation per unit area in India.
The Minister for New & Renewable Energy and Power, RK Singh, recently said at an event that the central government will issue a single tender to set up a 25 gigawatt solar power park in the Ladakh district of Jammu & Kashmir. The project will deliver power to a transmission point in the neighboring state of Himachal Pradesh for further dispensation.
If implemented, the solar power park will be India’s largest. The current largest solar power park planned and approved by the Indian government is the five gigawatt Dholera solar power park in Gujarat. Phase-wise tenders for this project are expected to be launched soon.
The proposed tender for Ladakh solar power park will also have a component of battery storage. At present, India has no large-scale solar power project equipped with battery storage that has been auctioned by any state or central government.
The Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) has flirted with the idea of issuing battery-inclusive tenders in the past but did not receive encouraging responses from project developers in terms of tariff rates. After multiple attempts, only one small utility-scale solar power project with battery storage was auctioned for the Andaman Islands.
Despite having the highest per unit area radiation in the country, Ladakh has not seen any progress in the development of large-scale solar power projects. Attempts were previously made to move ahead with the implementation of a large solar power park, but logistics and lack of transmission infrastructure for power evacuation remained serious challenges.
The remote and hilly terrain of the region makes it cumbersome for developers to deliver large-scale projects at tariffs competitive to projects located in other parts of the country, such as Rajasthan. This is the reason that while solar panels are widely used for smaller applications across Ladakh, large projects are yet to find any success.
At present, Ladakh is connected with the rest of the country through two roads. Both these roads are open only for a few months during summer. Such restriction would make it impossible for project developers to complete the project in timelines given for similar projects in other parts of the country. While the central government has ordered construction of a tunneled road for round-the-year connectivity, the road project would take seven years for completion.
It is clear that the parameters of this tender would be very different from those of tenders for similar projects in other parts of the country. However, if and when commissioned, the project will be a major source of solar power for the entire northern region in India.