India's Coastal Temple Town of Konark Plans to Become 100 Percent Solar-Powered

a group of people in colorful outfits stand facing away from the camera looking up at a large building temple with statues
Down To Earth
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Konark, Odisha, India

India's Coastal Temple Town of Konark Plans to Become 100 Percent Solar-Powered

Every two years, Suman Haldar (68) and his wife Sunanda from West Bengal’s Midnapore district visit the world heritage site of the Sun Temple at Konark, in Odisha’s Puri district.

The couple, who visited Konark at the end of 2021 after the Covid-induced lockdown was relaxed, noticed some visible changes.

“We like the beauty and peaceful ambience of Konark. This year, the city has installed solar streetlights on major roads, drinking water kiosks and the guide told us that the Odisha government has planned to run the Sun Temple completely on solar energy,” said Suman.

Konark, which occupies a prominent place in India’s tourism map due to the Sun Temple, is going to be the first model town in Odisha to shift from grid dependency to green energy.

Although Odisha has a large deposit of power-grade thermal coal in Talcher and Ib valley, the state is keen to reduce dependency on conventional sources of power generation and shift towards renewable energy.

The government has issued a policy guideline in this regard.

By 2022-end, the state has targeted to generate 2,750 megawatt (MW) from renewable energy sources like the sun, wind, biomass, small hydro and waste-to energy (WTE), etc.  

Among these, the state targets to generate 2,200 MW from solar energy and a part of it will be utilised to run the Sun Temple and Konark town on solar energy.

Achieving Net Zero

Konark’s transition to renewable energy is part of an ambitious plan by the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE).

The Rs 25-crore programme aims to ensure all energy needs of Konark Temple and Konark town are met by solar power. Another project is the Sun Temple at Modhera in Gujarat.

The work in Konark is being carried out with the active collaboration of the state government. The OREDA (Odisha Renewable Energy Development Agency), a nodal agency of the Government of Odisha, which is executing the project, plans to transform Konark into a zero emission city by December 2022.

Ashok K Choudhury, deputy director of OREDA said, “We plant to make Konark into a 100 per cent solar town and also place it among India’s first few zero emission cities or towns, which means all energy needs of the city would be fulfilled only from renewable energy sources”.  

Most of the targeted installation of 300 kilowatt (KW) solar panels in and around Konark has been completed. This includes:

  • 50 solar-powered streetlights
  • 40 drinking water ATMs
  • 20 battery-operated Vehicles with charging points
  • A 50 KW solar power plant installed near the temple for illumination
  • Rooftop solar panels on 12 government institutions, including schools, hospitals and offices

These solar power plants will cater to the energy needs of Konark. “Once that has been completed, there will be a visible shift of Konark from grid dependency to off-grid or solar,” Paresh Parida, an employee of Aditi Solar, a Hyderabad-based company, the agency for the entire renewable energy installation work in Konark, said.

solar panels on the ground in a row, in the distance you can see solar powered small personal vehicles and a grassy field with livestock
Solar charging points and battery-operated vehicles / Credit: Rakhi Ghosh

The Konark Notified Area Council (NAC) is spread over an area of around 23 sq km and includes seven villages and 13 wards, with a total population of 26,000. But the transition to renewable energy work is confined to Konark town.

“To reduce emissions, we plan to introduce 20 battery operated vehicles in the initial stage. The solarisation work will also help reduce electricity consumption as well as financial load,” Akriti Goenka, executive officer, Konark NAC, said.

But an employee, on condition of anonymity, said the auto drivers’ association of the town are against introduction of battery-operated autos. They have submitted a memorandum to the NAC.

“The shifting from grid to solar energy will help reduce the electricity consumption of the Sun Temple. The financial benefit from solar energy will help divert spending on other developmental work of the temple,” Arun Mallick, superintendent of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), said.

Transition process

Konark and similar interventions in other places will help the government achieve its target of 2,750 MW by 2022-end.

According to Odisha Economic Survey 2020-21, the estimated demand for power has been well below the installed capacity in the state for several years now.

The renewable energy policy of 2016 aims at augmenting the generation of renewable energy with more emphasis on solar energy. By the end of 2022, Odisha envisages generation of 2,200 MW solar power, 200 MW of wind power, 180 MW of biomass power, 150 MW of small hydroelectric power and 20 MW of waste to energy power.

Experts say the state may or may not achieve its target by 2022-end. However, Odisha is the first state in the country to include climate in its budget for 2020-21.

Pravas Mishra, economist and budget analyst said: “There is no specific programme defined in the climate budget for renewable energy development work. The Odisha government has also formed the Odisha Renewable Energy Development Fund but there is no budget allocation for 2020-21 and 2021-22. Just the assistance to the Green Energy Development Corp Ltd is mentioned. Thus, we cannot say if it is directly contributing to green or renewable energy.”

He added: “If the government has allocated some funds for the Biju Gramya Jyoti Yojana (a rural electrification programme) there is no specific mention as to how much funds will be spent on renewable energy. We can only say it is a notional allocation. To achieve the target, the government will have to allocate funds for specific renewable energy programmes.”     

Challenges

Odisha faces many challenges in setting up huge solar power plants. The state has 480 km of coastline and is prone to regular cyclones. It has so far encountered 10 cyclones including Super Cyclone, Phailin, Hudhud, Titli, Amphan and Fani in 22 years.

Besides this, land acquisition is another major challenge in setting up solar power plants. While coastal areas are cyclone-prone, some parts of Odisha have dense forests whereas land is expensive in densely-populated areas.

Ashok Choudhury of OREDA said: “We cannot install a solar plant in Konark for various reasons. The town is cyclone-prone, solar insolation is less, there are high humid weather conditions and heavy corrosion.  All these things went against installation of a solar power plant here. Thus, getting 50 acres of land for setting up of a solar plant was challenging for us”.

He added: “As we couldn’t find any favourable place in Konark, we decided to set up the solar plant in Junagarh in Kalahandi district, 450 km away from. We have already given the work order and the company will install the solar power plant within a year.”

The proposed solar power plant, which would be installed in Junagarh, Kalahandi, will supply power to the grid. This power will be adjusted or compensated against the energy consumed in Konark from nearby power stations.

Choudhury said: “This is called book adjustment, consumption against production of renewable energy. This is happening all over the world. The objective of Net Zero is if I generate as much somewhere else, what I am consuming here, I am achieving Net Zero status.”

Sources said though the villagers of Dumberbahal and Eknaguda in Junagarh where the plant is envisaged, were protesting against the project, the installation of solar plants had started.

OREDA has planned to explore reservoirs and waterbodies to set up floating solar power plants to meet these continuous land acquisition challenges.

“We have identified Hirakud, Indrabati and Rengali as major reservoirs to set up floating solar power plants, which will solve the land acquisition issues in future,” Choudhury said.   

There are hard-to-reach and remote villages / habitations in the state where grid-connected electricity has not yet reached and to make it feasible will be cost-effective.

These households are being provided with Solar Photo Voltaic (PV) standalone systems to illuminate their houses.

“These households are being covered under the Soubhagya and DDUGJY (Deen Dayal Upadhayay Grama Jyoti Yojana) schemes of the Government of India,” he said.

Choudhury added, “The demand of power from grassroots has to be met from solar energy. Solar is not like coal or hydro as it is available everywhere and decentralised in nature. If generation and consumption are decentralised, it will cater to the needs of people in the remotest areas.”

This story was produced with support from Internews' Earth Journalism Network. It was originally published on 1 March 2022 in Down to Earth and has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Banner image: Konark Sun Temple in Konark town / Credit: Rakhi Ghosh.

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