Community based Solar Power projects

Explore installation of solar water pumps for nomadic shepherds  

The world is undergoing a fundamental shift in the energy sector from fossil fuel-based systems to increasingly decentralized renewable energy systems at scales to suit all energy sectors. Limited energy infrastructure, population spread over vast areas and an arid climate in Jammu and Kashmir was a disadvantage, but now there is an advantage by installing solar power generation infrastructure. The whole union territory of J&K has unmatched renewal energy availability. The technologies required to utilize this energy can be scaled to meet every need and installed wherever energy is needed. Furthermore, Jammu and Kashmir can avoid costly lock-in of centralized energy systems in areas previously without electricity and upgrade existing systems creating energy security. This will also ensure safeguarding our natural resources like forests which are off and on damaged during laying of huge transmission lines and construction of dams for hydropower plants.

According to Engineer Dharam Pal Balgotra of  Sanji Surya Power Group which envisages solar power vision for Jammu & Kashmir is planning to work on utilizing solar power potential in J&K through Community Solar Power under Independent Power Producer (IPP) mode. Under this programme 2 Megawatt (MW) Solar Power can be generated in a cluster of 10 village panchayat’s.

This is a vision for the expansion of opportunities into energy services in every urban neighborhood. In each District, Block and village panchayat, in which sustainable livelihoods for families, farmers, health care centers, schools, small and medium sized businesses, and multiple service providers could get the due benefits.

There is huge potential of renewable sources of energy in Jammu and Kashmir that needs to be harnessed in driving socio-economic development and support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).

Solar power has very little contribution in this despite J & K being the second largest in terms of having the potential of 111.05 Gigawat’s Peak (GWp) for solar power generation in the country. Ladakh UT is colloquially known as the ‘solar capital’ of India as the area receives solar radiations in  most immaculate and pristine condition. However, as of now, when it comes to solar power generation, the only solar plant set up in J&K is at Katra Railway Station, which has a generation capacity of only 1 MW. This natural blessing entails us to exploit judicially and adopt different methodology for the different regions of Jammu & Kashmir .

 The Government of India had announced plans to build the World’s largest Solar Energy Power Plant farms in Union Territory of Ladakh , which would be as big as 5,000 MW. This would be equally distributed as 2500 MW’s each for  Leh and Kargil which is to be completed by end of 2023. Total estimated investment for this project is around Rs 45,000 crore.

Due to hilly terrain, poor health of the weak grid, huge gap of supply demand, mismatch load profile, stability issue  of the power system, occupancy of huge areas of land required nearest to the load centers and nearness to urban entails us that we should not go for big solar power farms in all other areas except Leh and Kargil areas.

Ariel view of a Shepherds hutment area in Corag meadow of Pir Panjal mountain range of Budgam

Community solar power plants

The most viable solution is tapping distributed small farms solar power through Independent Power Producers (IPP) community mode only. In community mode, a group of the investors is created which consists of  unemployed engineers, developers, representatives from each Panchayat. They identify 70 Kanals of hilly uncultivated ownership land/ lease land. Then prepare a Detailed Project Report (DPR) of Grid connected 2 MW Solar power farms. This proposal is sent to Jammu & Kashmir Energy Development Agency (JAKEDA) and Power Development Department (PDD) for their approval. Then a proposal is made for entering a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the Government at a nominal proposed power tariff of R 4.93/unit. This proposed reasonable tariff has been worked out considering the lowest tariff bidding for urban area obtained in July 2019 of Rs 2.90/unit for big farms + 70% increase due to remote hilly location, transportation, higher cost of  labour, service and other charges of higher cost of Balance of Material  for the plant, as being small in nature .This will help  in reducing the time lost in inviting tenders and obtaining the lowest bid again. This has already been done at national level by inviting global tenders and the lowest bid has been obtained at a value of Rs 2.90/unit for big farms in July 2019, wherein the cost of Balance of Material (BOM) is coordinated with the total cost of the plant.

The only task left is to do brainstorming by the J&K Electricity Regulatory Commission and find a reasonable value of loading the lowest tariff value after considering all other parameters mentioned above and fix a final acceptable and workable tariff to be awarded to the local developers.

Make the solar power policy most simple, attractive, one window solution for all statutory clearances in IPP under Community mode for 2 MW Distributed grid connected solar power farms at least one in each Panchayat.

This community mode of construction of 2MW small solar farm grid connected shall enable to generate local power, accommodate many unemployed persons, local development, establishing small industrial units in each Panchayat in addition to maintain the ecological balance by generating clean power.

Villages become self sufficient

The 2MW solar power farm can be commissioned in 6 months’ time and power can be evacuated through the nearest 11kv station/lines and thus making the village Panchayat self-sufficient vis a vis power. Once the power in each Panchayat is obtained, then small village industries can come up and usher in an era of sustainable development  with clean energy. To start with, if we simultaneously take 10 solar power farms of 2MW each, this means that 20MW solar power in Independent Power Producers (IPP) community mode can be obtained in a shortest span of 6 months besides creating employment opportunities for the people in each village panchayat. The income from these farms can be shared proportionally for the development of the Panchayat.

Solar water Pumps 

Recently I went trekking in the Pir Panjaal mountains of Budgam. The small rivulets supplying drinking water to Shepherd hutments had almost dried up as there was a long dry spell in Kashmir from early June to mid August. Shepherds were facing lots of problems due to non availability of drinking water in many areas. The highland pastures have no trees at all. There is only grassland and junipers but these areas get abundant sunshine. I fail to understand why Govt especially the Sheep Husbandry  has not explored the idea to install solar based tube wells in meadows and pastures inhabited by Kashmir shepherds and Bakerwals ? These solar based water-pumps could supply drinking water to shepherds and other tribal populations in abundance . I believe solar water pumps will work very efficiently in the pastures and grazing lands of J&K during summer months when there is a lot of migratory population in these areas. Pertinently,  the ground-water level is also not so deep I have observed. The Government must definitely explore this idea.  

Youth involvement 

Jammu & Kashmir Government must formulate a simple policy for utilizing  solar energy under IPP mode as expeditiously as possible. This would ensure participation of more and more local developers especially the unemployed educated youth, unemployed engineers and other technocrats for taking up 2MW small solar power farms in all the hilly areas of Jammu & Kashmir. Moreover, any experience and huge turn over clause in the agreement /policy should not be made as essential criteria as this would deprive local entrepreneurs from setting up these small solar power projects. If the target to achieve 1150 MW of solar power is to be achieved by year 2022 then the Government has to have liberal policies and local residents of Jammu & Kashmir should be given preference in setting up these small projects. This will not only give us clean energy but it will create employment opportunities for the many unemployed technocrats and people living in the villages where such projects would be taken up.  A single window system should be created by the Government for helping local entrepreneurs to participate in this entire process.

Conclusion I have written a lot in past on the destruction of our environment by laying of huge transmission lines especially the 44O KV DC Samba Amargrah transmission line due to which 50,000 forest trees were axed in Pir Panjal forests of Rajouri , Poonch , Shopian and Budgam. We destroyed forests in Doda and Kishtwar in the past for building huge dams and hydropower plants which takes years to get commissioned. Even as small as 7 to 10 MW hydropower plants also cause environmental disasters. The 2 MW power plants get ready for commissioning in 6 months and if the Government takes up 500 such projects  in one go that means in 6 months J&K will get 1000 MW’s of clean energy without even destroying nature. Infact one can continue with the agricultural activity in the areas where such solar panels are installed.


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About the author

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Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhatt

Muzaffar has been actively associated with Right to Information Movement in J&K which led to the enactment of Right to Information legislation in Jammu and Kashmir. He writes on the issues of Governance, Environment and Social Development.