World's highest solar energy plant in Sikkim

PTI[ MONDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2001 11:19:25 AM ]

KOLKATA: The world's highest solar energy plant has been set up in Sikkim's Chaurikhang area which can light up an area of two sq km. The 2.2 kilowatt plant, designed and conceived by West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency (WBREDA), has been set up at an altitude of 14,000 feet by the exide industry at a camp of Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) in the area, WBREDA director S P Gon Choudhury told PTI on Monday.

The union renewable energy department has financed the Rs 15 lakh plant which was commissioned on October 2. The solar panels would light up the two sq km area of the base camp and enable about 250 HMI camp employees run electronic appliances. While HMI employees would have to run the plant on a daily basis, senior WBREDA engineers from here would pay visit to the plant in every three months to do maintenance work, the director said.

Asked whether any special precaution has been taken to safeguard the machinery in such freezing temperature, Gon Chaudhury said "there has not been any special precaution. But we also do not foresee any problem." He hoped the solar panels would be in full use because of abundance of sunlight at such an altitude and 40 lamps could be switched on with the help of the panels.

Asked how the plant was commissioned at such a height, he said the panels and other equipment had to be transported on the back of yak to the top, while engineers had to trek for three days. Before trekking they had to walk some distance after leaving their cars at an area close to Sikkim-Bengal border, which falls under West Bengal's Darjeeling hills district. Though Chaurikhang is in Sikkim, the nearest approach route is through Darjeeling hills.

On whether any special mountaineering training had been imparted to the personnel who installed the plant, Gon Chaudhury said "the WBREDA personnel had been familiar with the terrain as they went to the area earlier also to have an on-the-spot assessment of the location." He said WBREDA provided the panels and equipment for the plant and car battery major exide industries Ltd assisted in implementing them. "We were requested to design such a plant by HMI, whose employees in the camp had been facing myriad problems without power. Even their liquid fuel getting frozen in the minus six to seven degree temperature, Gon Chaudhury said.

When the HMI contacted WBREDA requesting them to do something to help the employees, the agency at once decided to use solar panels for the purpose. If the project becomes a runaway success WBREDA will think about similar plans for army bases in desolate and high altitude.