Solar lamps for divinity, demagogues in sunshine country!

MNRE is embarking on an ambitious plan to light up temples - religious (Golden Temple) and democratic (Sansad Bhavan) with solar power


Sweta Ranjan | September 5, 2010

The parliament complex and the Golden Temple, one the seat of people’s power and the other the holiest Sikh shrine. The government, aiming to spread the message of renewable energy in these times of climate change, could not have chosen more apt places. These two awe-inspiring monuments will soon switch over to solar energy for most of their energy requirements thanks to a unique initiative from the ministry of new and renewable energy.

“The whole building would be solar energy-efficient,” says new and renewable energy minister Farooq Abdullah, who has made promotion of solar power his mission. Ministry sources said tenders for a power plant and a biogas plant were being placed at the time of writing.

So, when MPs sit together to debate national issues and frame laws, we can hope they will keep in mind the energy question – how to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint, cut our dependency on hydrocarbon fuels and promote the eco-friendly economic growth. And they will hopefully think twice before giving in to populism over energy sufficiency.

“We are looking at using all the methods to reduce the consumption of power. This is going to be a showpiece for the people to see what wonders renewable energy can do,” says Abdullah.

He only rues the fact that the project is slightly behind schedule, due to a variety of reasons, mainly to do with the placement of solar panels. Placing them atop the main building would have affected its aesthetics and grandeur and then there were security aspects. Now the parliament annexe will host the solar panels.

The other project, at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, will be completed by October. A state public sector undertaking, Punjab Energy Development Agency (PEDA), has undertaken a survey of the shrine and started the project at fast pace.

"The large number of pilgrims who visit this shrine every day would carry forward the message to every nook and corner of the country on the need to harness solar energy,’’ says Abdullah.

Moreover, Punjab has been notorious for profligate consumption of electricity with successive governments offering free electricity to farmers, and the choice of the Golden Temple for the project will help spread the good word across the state.

Punjab, a major agriculture hub, has an insatiable appetite for electricity as farmers depend on electric motors to pump out groundwater for irrigation. After Gujarat and Haryana, Punjab has the highest annual per capita consumption of electricity in the agriculture sector. And it is only increasing as more and more farmers turn to growing paddy, which requires heavy irrigation. In this scenario, it would make economic sense for Punjab to turn to solar power in a big way.

While the project for the parliament complex is expected to cost Rs 2.53 crore, the ministry has sanctioned Rs 50 lakh for the first phase of the Golden Temple project. It feels that these would be role models for other states and other prominent buildings to go the solar way.
The ministry has also decided to tap the kitchen waste at both the places, each of which generates about two tonnes of it every day. This will help reduce the consumption of LPG or coal while also bringing down the carbon dioxide emission.

A plant will be set up in the parliament annexe, which will produce biogas equivalent of 4,400 kg LPG a day and some 72 tonnes of manure a month. The biogas will be enough to run the three kitchens in the parliament house and the one at the reception, and prepare food for around 7,000-8,000 people during sessions. That will help save Rs 3.2 lakh every year.

At the Golden Temple, biogas generated from kitchen waste will fire stoves for langar, or community kitchen. “We are in the process of promoting the solar cooking system at the Golden Temple. They (temple authorities) feed over 50,000 people at a time. Temple officials have already started work. They went to the Sai Baba shrine in Shirdi and saw the system working,” says Abdullah.

Both the places will have solar water-heating systems too. “The basic principle (of a solar water heater) is conversion of water into steam energy. We want to use as much natural energy as possible to promote environmental protection, conservation and rejuvenation by using renewable and clean energy,” says N P Singh, adviser to the ministry.

And this is just the beginning. Abdullah adds, “We are looking at many religious places where people go in large numbers. The Vaishno Devi temple in Jammu is going to have renewable energy. Then, also in Kashmir, there are a number of shrines that will be part of this drive. For example, Hazratbal. Lots of people go to Ajmer Sharif, plans are afoot for this shrine too. We are planning to provide lighting at these places using solar energy. That is what is already happening at the Brahmakumari Ashram in Mount Abu.”

The ministry is working with the Punjab government for a switchover to solar power at several places. For example, it has sanctioned Rs 50 lakh each for lighting up Durgiana Mandir in Amritsar and the India-Pakistan border checkpost at Wagah with solar power. A 15 kilo-watt SPV (solar photo-voltaic) power plant and LED lightings will illuminate the border post, which attracts hordes of tourists. The plant will generate 30,000 units of electricity a year.

A Rs 25 lakh project has been sanctioned to provide lighting in the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, witness to a defining moment in the freedom struggle. A 10 KW SPV power plant will be installed there to generate 19,800 units annually for lighting up the garden as well as the museum and the portrait gallery.

The ministry is also targeting tourist places like Hampi in Karnataka, famous for the magnificent ruins of Vijayanagara, and the Ajanta-Ellora caves in Maharashtra are also in the queue.

Abdullah says, “We had a talk with the Karnataka chief minister (B S Yeddyurappa). I also had talks with the minister of tourism, Ms Selja Kumari, so that we can introduce solar power at Hampi, which is one of the very important tourist places in Karnataka. She has accepted the offer and we need to move further on this.

The same goes for Ajanta-Ellora. These places need this sort of power so that the people can see the beauty. The beauty of the caves at Ajanta-Ellora is not clearly visible to tourists. Solar power generation for the caves area will help people see those murals and sculpture better.”



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