NEW DELHI: State-run explorer ONGC has embarked upon a journey to generate electricity on a utility scale by tapping steam gushing from the earth’s bowels at Puga, a remote valley located at an altitude of over 14,000 feet, off the road to Chumar on the de-facto border with China.
This will be India’s first geothermal energy project, first reported by TOI on February 9, 2021, and also the world’s highest. It will boost Ladakh’s potential to emerge as one of the country’s clean energy bowl by expanding the area’s horizon beyond solar or wind power.
ONGC last week started drilling its first well for the project and encountered high-pressure steam at 100 degrees Celsius with a discharge rate of 100 tonne geothermal energy per hour. This has made the crew confident about the project’s viability.
The geothermal foray is part of a strategy adopted by India’s largest oil and gas producer to offset its carbon footprint.
In the first phase, the company will drill 1,000-metre-deep wells to run a one megawatt power plant as a pilot. The third phase envisages a deeper exploration of the geothermal reservoir and a higher capacity demonstration plant. A commercial size plant will be set up in the third phase.
The pilot plant provides power and heating needs of the nearby settlements of Tibetan pastoralist refugee settlements at Sumdo and nearby areas. A bigger plant will provide 24X7 supply for the far-flung settlements and the large defence establishment in the eastern sector, reducing their dependence on diesel for running generators. The plant can also play a vital role as a stabiliser for the 15 gigawatt solar/wind project being planned in the nearby Morey plains in the southwest.
Puga, and Chumathang area in general, are deemed as the most promising geothermal prospects. These areas were discovered in the 1970s and initial exploratory efforts were made in the 1980s by the Geological Survey of India. But nothing much happened till prime minister Narendra Modi on August 15, 2020 outlined a carbon-neutral vision for Ladakh.
The US, Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey and New Zealand have gigawatt-size geothermal capacities. Mexico and Italy has 900 megawatt-plus capacity, while Kenya has over 800 mw, followed by Iceland, Japan and others.