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Master plan soon to make Puducherry a ‘solar city’

According to reports, the Puducherry landscape might soon be dotted with solar-powered households, government buildings and public lighting under a plan to make this grid-lined former French enclave a ‘solar city.’

The ‘solar city’ initiative, spearheaded by the Renewable Energy Agency of Puducherry (REAP) and provided in-principle approval by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, is at present being given shape brick-by-brick, or rather panel-by-solar panel, by three high-level committees in the government.

“We expect a comprehensive master plan to be ready in about three months,” said K.V. Augustine, Planning Officer at REAP.

The Union Territory has also commissioned a private consultancy to submit a draft master plan.

Already, the city has been inching towards energy-efficient power more in a bits-and-pieces fashion than in holistic mission mode.

For instance, the Chief Secretariat is now getting another 25 KW solar plant after the existing plant was completely damaged in the Cyclone Thane in December, 2011. The project is halfway through, according to REAP officials.

Three public offices in Puducherry, including the Forest Department and the Government Press, are now solar-powered and the Transport Department and the government-run Mahatma Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Dental Sciences are expected to follow suit soon.

Over at the Central Jail, inhabitants are hooked to food prepared with solar steam cooking systems. “We plan to expand it to all centralised kitchen utilities in the city,” an official said.

And, apart from a slew of solar plants such as the one proposed by REAP in Karaikal, the Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd. is implementing the ‘Smart Grid’ initiative to popularise solar power across government buildings, households and institutions.

Among educational institutions, the Pondicherry University has declared itself as a ‘solar campus’ while the Pondicherry Engineering College has a biomass gasifier plant to power its buildings.

On the energy efficiency front, Chief Minister N. Rangasamy chairs a high-level committee that is exploring feasibility of powering the entire city with LED lighting.

There, will, however, be an important issue to iron out when solar installations take over the lighting needs of this city. Who will maintain the installations?

When the Union Territory piloted solar street lighting a couple of years ago, the scheme was soon virtually derailed because of maintenance issues with neither the Puducherry Electricity Department, the Municipality, the PWD or the local body concerned evincing any interest in taking up the responsibility of upkeep of the installations.

“The onus of maintenance is certainly an issue to be sorted out,” Mr. Augustine said.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, REAP hosted a stakeholder consultation on the Energy Conservation Building Code and to generate inputs on evolving a road map for achieving benchmarked energy efficient standards for design and construction of new buildings.

“Puducherry is among the 16 cities where the United Nations Development Programme commissioned a study on the status of the regulatory and fiscal framework for the ECBC, identify gaps and evolve an actionable road map,” said Karan Mangotra, Assistant Project Manager, UNDP.

Puducherry is also one of the cities to have notified an amended Energy Conservation Building Code that envisages about 30 per cent energy savings for all new buildings said Sunil Kumar Arora, Programme Analyst, Energy & Environment Unit, UNDP.

“Broadly speaking, the drive for energy efficiency will target the three sectors of municipal administration, industry and agriculture,” said Girja Shankar, Assistant Energy Economist, Bureau of Energy Efficiency.

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