On November 13 last year, engineer-turned-education reformer and environmentalist Sonam Wangchuk, posted on the social media platform Twitter, with an appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to save the upcoming Leh airport in the union territory of Ladakh. The airport, as per progress at that time, did not seem in alignment with the idea of a ‘carbon neutral Ladakh’ noted Wangchuk. The Prime Minister, on multiple occasions, has said that Ladakh would be developed as a ‘carbon-neutral region’.
In his video message, Wangchuk pointed out the irony of using three megawatt diesel boilers and generator systems for air conditioning at the airport, when, in a place like Leh, opening the windows would work better than any air conditioner. “What could have become a model for the world could perhaps become a case study for how not to do airports in such sunny high altitudes fragile locations,” Wangchuk said in his video message.
Carbon neutrality, in theory, is the when the sum of all the greenhouse gases put into and take out of the atmosphere balance out to zero.
The Prime Minister, in a response in the Parliament in February 2020 had said Ladakh would be developed as a carbon-neutral region, which he also reiterated this in his address to the nation on Independence Day where he said, “Just as Sikkim has made its mark as an organic state in the Northeast, Ladakh, Leh and Kargil can also create their own niche as a carbon neutral unit.” Plans for a solar park are also underway in Ladakh.
Ladakh was established as a union territory in October 2019, carved out of Jammu and Kashmir state which was declared as separate union territory after the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019.
Since the PM’s announcement of a carbon-neutral Ladakh, various initiatives in this direction are being taken with a number of projects such as installation of solar cooking device in households, promoting construction of solar passive buildings, sustainable homestay tourism, introduction of electric vehicles and solar powered charging stations, focus on drip irrigation and other energy efficient methods of micro-irrigation such as ponds or Dzings to maximize the use of existing water resources etc, are being planned and worked out.
According to India’s Third Biennial Update Report to The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), “Carbon neutrality for Ladakh is not a mitigation goal, but a development vision. The biggest challenge is to find a path of sustainability that will protect and enable this fragile but unique landscape to flourish while ensuring that the amenities and benefits of modernity reach its population.”
The central government also announced a Special Development Package for Ladakh for the year 2019-20 and 2020-21 that focused on infrastructure development that included solar park, geothermal energy, solar power-based micro-irrigation etc.
According to Wangchuk, Himalayan Institute of Alternative Learning (HIAL) demonstrated the solar heating model to the officials that arrived from the PMO. “We have requested officials to improve the glass design so that the airport receives adequate heat directly from the sunlight. Instead of investing money into diesel and diesel boilers, the investment must be done in insulation. The generators that are currently proposed for air conditioning should be brought to half and only be used when the weather is cloudy and the electric grid fails too. Leh’s weather is such that even in summers one does not need air conditioning and if at all it’s needed, the underground water which is usually very cold can be used into blowers for air conditioning. By these ways, Ladakh airport can generate heat and air conditioning on zero energy,” the mid-course corrections suggested Wangchuk to the officials.
Mission carbon neutrality
The union territory of Ladakh receives one of the highest amounts of solar radiation in the country and enjoys cloud-free days for most part of the year. This provides a high possibility of harnessing solar energy.
Talking about the architectural design and steps taken in the direction of a carbon neutral airport, Malkeet Singh, Airport Director, Leh, explained, “The southern side of the building is considered fully double glazed unit glasses. Eastern and western sides are designed with a cavity wall of autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) block with 100 mm cavity. A 125mm glass wool insulation has been considered for the roofs. All equipment used in the airport adheres to the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) standards. Skylight has been provided on the roof or natural sunlight to enter the building saving energy. Fresh air will be circulated through blowers inside the terminal for human comforts during normal season i.e. April, May, August, September and October (five months at least in a year) as per requirement.”“All light fixtures being used at the airport are energy efficient LED lights which are also operating through sensors. Solar photovoltaic systems are being installed at various locations on rooftops. Plantation of trees by using sewage treated water. Rain water harvesting units will be made to recharge the groundwater. There are also provisions for Automatic Power Factor Control (APFC) panels to improve power factor for better energy efficiency and Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) based pumps are used for Energy Efficiency,” Singh added.