Ladakh accounts for more than two-thirds of the land area of the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. As a high altitude cold desert, though, it hosts only about 5% of the state’s population. With the mercury dipping to minus 20 degrees Celsius or lower during winter nights, and about minus 5 degrees Celsius at night during March and April, it becomes virtually impossible to live without proper heating.
However, Ladakh hosts a large Army presence due because its region where two of the longest unresolved border disputes in the world – between India and China to the east, and between India and Pakistan to the west – are still ongoing. Indian Army is facing challenges in providing power to military installations and soldiers in high altitude areas such as Ladakh. Uninterrupted electricity supply, hence, becomes essential for cooking, heating, boiling water and recharging batteries of communication and surveillance devices.
Due to the absence of regular electric, generators are used at present. Apart from the huge amounts of fuel consumption, transporting diesel and kerosene is a logistic challenge and costly proposition. Fuel is often carried by soldiers and mules. Oil pipelines are susceptible to breakages due to landslides and avalanches. It not just involves cost but also becomes a major contributing factor to air pollution in the fragile Himalayan ecology. Stoves and generators often break down during winters and sending a generator for repairs is a transportation nightmare. The region is not connected to the national grid. There are hydel power projects here but freezing of water in winter sees considerable fall in production.
The Army has launched a project for developing durable power supply in high altitudes to enhance the living conditions of its personnel. The plan is to have renewable energy in place of fossil fuels that are unreliable and face transportation and maintenance hassles.
According to a study report, Ladakh is a region where such renewable energy can be easily harnessed. The project is being executed under the Technology Development Fund scheme and the Army is discussing the project with the industry and subject experts. The scheme envisages funding the industry that can develop technologies or prototypes for potential use with the help of scientists.
The scheme is evaluating a variety of options.
The first option is fuel cell, which would convert chemical energy from a fuel into electricity through a reaction of hydrogen-containing fuel with oxygen or another oxidising agent. To start with, the power to be generated would be pegged at around 5 KW.
“With a multitude of end-uses—such as distributed power for backup, primary, and combined heat-and-power systems; automobiles, buses, forklifts and other specialty vehicles; and auxiliary power units and portable electronics—fuel cell applications hold potential to dramatically impact the 21st century clean energy economy,” writes the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Now days fuel cells are available that range from 500-watt models that back up a few computers to 250- to 500-megawatt systems that can power entire subdivisions, hospitals or industrial buildings.
Solar and Wind Energy
Solar and wind energy, in abundance at high altitudes, are also under consideration. According to a study report, Ladakh is a region where such renewable energy can be easily harnessed.
In the mountains, certain aspects of the environment make photovoltaic systems especially effective: air quality, sunlight, lack of fog or dust, air temperature. The problems that mountain communities face is rather the breadth of territory needed to set up a large number of photovoltaic panels.
Wind energy is already widely used in Europe and in mountainous regions, especially in Spain and France, but also in Italy, Norway, and the United Kingdom. It has been spreading rapidly almost everywhere
However, the installation of medium and large scale facilities (covering areas ranging from 6 to 25 km²) has been the source of a growing number of conflicts with local inhabitants, due to the impact that the facilities have on the landscape and environment in mountainous areas.
The term “high-temperature geothermal energy” (also called high-enthalpy geothermal energy) is used when there is a natural source of heat at ground level or below the surface, and low-temperature geothermal energy (also called low-enthalpy geothermal energy) refers to the use, via a heat pump, of the natural difference in temperatures between the surface and lower levels It is the least used source of energy in Western Europe, but it has attracted growing interest and has seen its competitiveness increase in recent years.
Looking beyond the use of thermal sources for generating energy, low-enthalpy geothermal energy is at present the most widely available source of energy, especially for use in generating heat, and it can be integrated into other local facilities that rely on renewable energy sources, says European report.
Low enthalpy energy resources are currently being used in many communities across Europe to assist in domestic heating. This source of energy still requires more research to become more effective as part of larger scale models but clearly the technology is becoming more widely available
Air Source Heat Pumps
Even cold air is full of energy and air source heat pumps use the freely available heat in the ambient air to provide efficient heating and hot water at air temperatures as low as -25°C. Because the source of heat – the air – is abundantly available, air source heat pumps have proven to be relatively cheap and popular around Europe.
Coupled with the advantage of relatively low installation costs and minimal space requirements they continue to be used in many new dwellings and there is an established supplier market place. New generation air source heat pumps are even more efficient and commercial research continues to drive the market forward for better designs. Air source Heat pumps should be a seen not only as part of a domestic energy efficiency system but also for larger scale commercial and public building uses and particularly for public and community utilities, says European report.
Benefits of the outside air as a heat source are that it can be utilised all year round between +35°C and -25°C , Always available and inexhaustible source of heat, No requirement for the cost and land area of ground collectors and Ideal for new build or retro fit applications, especially where space is limited
Using wind energy to produce electricity, combined with solar energy to generate heat, could offer an ideal solution for mountain areas seeking to maintain their viability, a low-cost solution with no impact on the atmosphere.
Solar power projects are few in number and are unable to meet the peak power demand for 21 military stations in winter. “There is a requirement to integrate all renewable energy sources to create a micro grid, to balance the requirement of military stations. The hybrid sources which need to be integrated are solar, wind, geothermal and micro hydel power stations,” the study report said.
“These sources of energy are not susceptible to mechanical breakdown. There are also no transportation issues. Some of these technologies are more durable to withstand vagaries of nature. As they are quiet, they will also not give away your location to the adversary,” an officer said. Jawans deployed at altitudes as high as 22,000 feet in the northern and eastern sectors have to deal with sub-zero conditions almost throughout the year.
Passive solar housing
Indian Army has been looking at local experiments in passive solar housing. This form of design takes advantage of a building’s location and climate with use of materials such as earth and local resources that will lead to low or negligible use of energy for heating throughout the day.
Sonam Wangchuk, an innovator-entrepreneur from Ladakh, has developed this housing concept. Wangchuk has won the prestigious Global Award for Sustainable Architecture 2017 that recognises the work on “passive solar heated Earth buildings and the Ice Stupa project on sustainable architecture.” The idea of passive solar design is that it absorbs and traps all the heat directly from sunlight and the architecture lets us store it for long,” he said. “Even without using any energy-demanding artificial heating methods, we have been staying and running the school here every winter for more than a decade now.”
Echoing what Wangchuk had to say, army officers said the troops had got one shelter constructed at Manla Complex in Skanzangling, near Leh, based on passive solar-heating using local techniques. “As per the feedback received (from Ladakh), the concept and design is successful,” an army officer told thethirdpole.net. “Although in the current financial year (ending March 31), there was no such project considered for execution, the concept will be considered in future in 14 Corps. However, quantum of habitat planned is not decided yet.”