Konark pursues clean energy dream but there are challenges

  • The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, in 2020, planned 100 percent solarisation of Konark city in Odisha. The central and the state governments have also been planning to develop Konark into a zero-emission city by September 2022.
  • However, there are several challenges including procedural delays and resistance from the villagers in Kalahandi where a solar project is being set up to power Konark.
  • To turn it into a model city, the authorities have planned environment-friendly public transport and facilities such as solar drinking water ATMs, public charging stations etc.

Vipul Behera, 36, is a shopkeeper near the famous Konark Sun Temple in Odisha, one of the 3,691 centrally protected monuments of India. He has been in business for over a decade but during the past year, he has witnessed the changes his city has undergone.

Public facilities such as street lights have shifted from using fossil fuel-based energy to solar power. “We are a witness to government rapidly installing several solar power-based systems,” said Behera while highlighting the transition.

The transition to solar power in the temple city of the eastern Indian state is part of an ambitious plan of the union government’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) under which it aims to ensure that all energy needs of Konark temple and Konark town and the Modhera Sun Temple in Gujarat are met by solar power. The estimated investment for Konark’s transition is about Rs. 250 million.

The work in Konark is being carried out with the active collaboration of the Odisha government with the goal of developing it into a zero-emission city. The Odisha Renewable Energy Development Agency (OREDA), which is executing the project, had planned to complete the target of transforming Konark into a zero-emission city by September 2022.

“We are working on two fronts in Konark. The first is to make it 100 percent solarised and the other is to make it one of India’s first few zero-emission cities which means that all the energy needs of the city would be fulfilled only from the renewable sources of energy,” Ashok Choudhury, who is the joint director of OREDA, told Mongabay-India.

Konark Notified Area Council (NAC) is spread over an area of around 23 square kilometres which includes seven villages and 13 wards, with a combined estimated population of about 26,000. “However, the plan of the solarisation of Konark is restricted to the Konark town alone,” officials from the Konark NAC said. The Konark town covers an area of around 13.5 square kilometres.

M. Srinivas, executive officer of Konark NAC, said the work for the complete solarisation and transition to a zero-emission city would be done with a mix of grid-connected and off-grid sources.

“Solar operated drinking water machines, solar trees, solar street lights have now been installed in good numbers while small solar power plants (including rooftop system) are being installed in some of the schools, and hospitals to cater to the energy needs of the city,” Srinivas told Mongabay-India.

According to the latest update (as of September 30, 2021), the city has a target of installing 40 solar-powered water ATMs (dispensers) out of which 25 have become operational and the rest are under construction in different stages. There was a plan of installing 50 solar trees (tree-like designed structures with solar panels) out of which 25 have been installed. There is also a plan to install 200 street lights out of which 100 have started working.

However, Sudarshan Chhotray, a Bhubaneswar-based environmentalist, questioned if the project is sustainable and feasible in reality.

“Konark is situated very close to the Bay of Bengal and has faced the wrath of cyclones and other natural disasters. Shifting to a clean energy source is a good idea but there are doubts about its sustainability and feasibility. It should not be a plan that is not implemented well. We need a comprehensive plan on this front,” he told Mongabay-India.

Read more: Odisha has an ambitious electric vehicle plan but faces challenges

Solar power project in Kalahandi to light up Konark

Though the Odisha government has not set up any mega solar power plant close to the city to ensure clean energy, it has found another route to achieve it.

“In Konark, we could not get adequate space or favourable conditions for setting up a solar plant through which we could have connected the city’s electricity points to the grid. We have calculated the city’s energy requirements to be around 10 megawatts (MW). Thus, we have planned to set up a solar power plant in the Kalahandi district to achieve the target,” said a senior official from the Odisha government’s energy department, while requesting anonymity.

The Konark Sun Temple in Konark. Photo by Manish Kumar/Mongabay.
The Konark Sun Temple in Konark. Photo by Manish Kumar/Mongabay.

According to the state government, the solar power generated from the project in Kalahandi, which is over 400 kilometres away, will be supplied to areas in the vicinity and it will then be adjusted against the energy supplied to Konark from other nearby power stations which may or may not be running on solar power.

In fact, according to sources in the Odisha government, around 100 trees will be cut in Kalahandi to set up the solar power plant. The villagers of Dumberbahal and Eknaguda in the Junagarh Block in Odisha, where the plant is envisaged, claimed that work for the solar power plant has not started as of now. A similar exercise in the Kesinga block of the Kalahandi district, which is considered one of the most backward areas in the state, had earlier witnessed resistance from the local inhabitants.

Environmental activists meanwhile expressed apprehensions against the proposed tree felling exercise in Kalahandi to cater to the clean energy needs of the Konark urban area. “Trees are known to absorb carbon emissions and mitigate green house effect. Just to cater to the needs of an urban areas, sacrificing trees and devastating local environment of an area around 700 kms away is not justified. The government could have thought of exploring areas close to where they want energy supply or try some innovative areas for the solar plant,” environmentalist S.N. Patro told Mongabay-India.

There are several other challenges in the plan of the central and the state government which could derail the completion of the target. For instance, the plan to complete all work related to off-grid solar at Konark by September 2021 is yet to be completed. The government is now hoping to finish it by the end of October 2021.

Sources in OREDA claimed that there is some resistance from the local shopkeepers against the installation of rooftop solar systems but negotiations are on to bring them on board. There are also delays in getting permissions for solar plants in several government institutions and others.

Read more: Will Odisha notify 14 proposed elephant corridors?

Clean energy-based transport for Konark

Konark is among the prime tourist destinations in Odisha after Puri, a coastal city 30 km away. It is visited by thousands of tourists every day.

The agencies involved in the transition of the Konark town claimed that effort would soon start towards the installation of public charging points for the electric vehicles (to be powered by clean energy) while the plans are also in motion to start e-vehicles at the site.

“There are plans to install two solar-operated electric vehicle charging points in Konark. One will be at the NAC office while the other one will be at Chandrabhaga beach. Moreover, electric (public) transport will also ply from Konark to Chandrabhaga and from Chandrabhaga to Puri along the Konark-Puri Marine Drive road,” informed OREDA’s Ashok Choudhury.

A solar tree at the roadside of Konark city. Photo by Manish Kumar/Mongabay.
A solar tree at the roadside of Konark city. Photo by Manish Kumar/Mongabay.

In addition, e-rickshaws are all set to be added to local public transport over the next few months.

Though the government is taking swift steps on other fronts, the work to ensure solar power to the Sun Temple’s energy requirement, such as light and sound show and CCTVs, is not yet complete.

“The work to shift to solar energy is not yet started. We are excited to shift to clean energy which will pave the way for a better future for the temple and the city. We are in the discussion phase now. The agencies involved in the process have held talks with us and soon with their support, the works on solarisation of the solar temple will start,” Arun Kumar Mallick, Archaeological Survey of India Superintendent, Odisha Circle told Mongabay-India.


Banner image: A solar drinking water kiosk at a government school in Konark. Photo by Manish Kumar/Mongabay.

Mongabay-India, is hosting a series of informative webinars called Clean Energy Talks. Sign up for the webinar Financing India’s Clean Energy Journey on October 26, 4 PM-5:30 PM at this link:


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