ONGC to usher in India’s first Geothermal Energy at Ladakh

Energy Maharatna ONGC has set out to establish India’s maiden Geothermal Field Development Project in Ladakh. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was inked by ONGC Energy Centre (OEC) with the Union Territory of Ladakh and Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh on 6 February 2021 to formalize this. The MoU, signed in the presence of Ladakh Lieutenant Governor, is the first step towards achieving the goal of creating a carbon neutral Ladakh, a clarion call of Prime Minister of India on Independence Day 2020.

The historic MoU was signed on 6 February 2021 in Ladakh
The historic MoU was signed on 6 February 2021 in Ladakh

This project will put India on Geothermal Power map of the world. Further, direct heat energy applications make it most relevant to Ladakh. The geothermal resource development can revolutionize farming in Ladakh, which is totally dependent for supply of fresh vegetables and fruits from outside the UT round the year. There is ample scope of utilization of waste heat after power generation from the power plant. The heated water can be carried in long insulated pipes from the source to end user and used for space heating, district heating, street heating for snow melting, etc providing living comfort and also reducing heating load from the grid. This will benefit both civilians and army personnel and stop migration of population to mainland during winters. Notably, Ladakh currently faces extreme power shortage during winters as hydel power production reduces to 10-15 per cent of capacity.

Geothermal GreenhousesGeothermal Tourism
Geothermal Greenhouses                           Geothermal Tourism

ONGC has planned this field development in Ladakh in three phases. Phase-I involves exploratory-cum-production drilling of wells up to 500 metres depth and setting up of a Pilot Plant of up to 1 MW power capacity. Phase-II would involve deeper and lateral exploration of geothermal reservoir by drilling of optimal number of wells and setting up of a higher capacity Demo Plant and preparing a Detailed Project Report. Phase-III would involve commercial development of the geothermal plant. Various estimates have been made on power generation potential based on Magnetic Telluric survey by National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI), Hyderabad and Indian Institute of Geomagnetism (IIG), Mumbai wherein expected temperature at depth of 2 km is beyond 200 degree C with power potential of 200 MW.

Hot water springs at Puga, 30 years back
Hot water springs at Puga, 30 years back

Puga and Chumathang in Eastern Ladakh happen to be the most promising geothermal fields in India. These areas were discovered in 1970s and initial exploratory efforts were made in 1980s by Geological Survey of India (GSI). But development efforts to exploit geothermal energy by government as well as private agencies did not materialize for some reasons. After creation of UT Ladakh, efforts were taken up earnestly by ONGC Energy Centre, culminating in this MoU.

Puga now, still producing steam naturally
Puga, still producing steam naturally

Geothermal energy is an energy source stored in form of heat beneath the earth's surface, which is clean, renewable, sustainable, carbon free, continuous, uninterrupted and environment-friendly. It is the only renewable energy available 24x7 to the mankind not requiring storage and unaffected by day-night or seasonality variance. India has seven geothermal provinces and a number of geothermal springs. Geothermal resources in India have been mapped by Geological Survey of India (GSI) and broad estimate suggests there could be 10 GW geothermal power potential, as per Ministry of New and Renewable Energy.

ONGC, with its mission of ‘retaining a dominant position in the Indian Petroleum sector and enhancing India’s energy availability and recognizing the fact that petroleum resources are dwindling worldwide’, has taken steps to look at all forms of alternative energy.

This OEC program has received active encouragement under stewardship of Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan. Further, Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar and Minister of Power, New and Renewable Energy RK Singh have also guided taking keen personal interest giving directions and resolution of challenges so as to achieve the goal of carbon neutrality at the earliest.

Further, Ladakh LG RK Mathur was instrumental and led the team from front culminating in signing of MoU. Incidentally, the LG was also instrumental in utilization of stranded gas by setting up Gas based Power Plant by ONGC Tripura Power Company (OTPC) where as the Chief Secretary of Agartala, he was a Board Member of OTPC.

This OEC program has received active encouragement under stewardship of our CMD, Director (T&FS) and Director (E) by guiding and taking keen personal interest, directions and resolution of challenges so as to achieve the goal of carbon neutrality at the earliest. OEC received active support from IDT and IRS, where MDT team was formed and they were part of the team in extensive discussion to formulate strategy and plan to take up the project. Participation and suggestions of IDT and IRS gave confidence that team ONGC can take all underlying challenges the project has in the form of excessive high temperature and blowout possibility. It is pertinent that, in last 25 years, number of government agencies like GSI, NTPC and DRDO have approached ONGC for taking up Geothermal Project in India requiring resources of oil and gas industry in the form of MT survey, Drilling and Reservoir Modelling. Now, OEC, which is focused for taking projects and programs beyond hydrocarbon, took keen interest along with IRS and IDT.

ONGC had founded ONGC Energy Centre Trust (OECT), under the Indian Trust Act, on 8 August 2005 with a mandate to undertake or assist in programs/projects of fundamental and applied research for improving and developing commercially viable energy mediums and sources beyond hydrocarbons, especially in clean and/or renewable energy options. The Ministry of New & Renewable Energy has already provided letter of support to OEC vide letter dated 9 April 2020 for Ladakh Geothermal Project.