Installing solar panels at high altitudes in the snow: Mission possible

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A solar panel installed on a snow-covered mountain reflects the sunlight
Solar panel reflecting sunlight © Getty Images

The thought of installing solar panels in isolated, snow-bound regions with harsh weather conditions may seem far-fetched. But Himachal Pradesh, a hilly state in northern India where snow and sun abound, is about to break new ground. The state plans to set up a one-gigawatt solar power plant in the Spiti Valley, an area that typically sees more than 300 clear and sunny days in a year but remains snowbound for up to a third of the year. 

Installing solar power plants in snowbound areas offers an important avenue for reducing pollution and mitigating climate change. Investments in such locations also bring job opportunities and boost incomes for locals  who may otherwise need to seek employment in faraway cities.

There are many high-altitude developing countries across the world with solar potential, Armenia and Serbia to name a couple. Yet, despite the clear skies and low temperatures in snowbound, hilly regions that may be conducive to solar photovoltaics, installation in these areas is no easy task. The reality is that their remoteness can pose many other challenges such as logistics handling, suitability of technology, access to the grid, as well as routine and emergency maintenance. 

While tough, these challenges can be overcome — especially when lessons are shared to lower the learning curve to each new high-altitude, snowy solar project. A new Live Wire publication, Installing Solar Power Plants in Snowbound Areas: Lessons from Himachal Pradesh, India, provides a set of recommendations  that answer common questions about harnessing high-altitude solar power. These include:

  1. Why should you consider solar photovoltaic projects in a snowbound area?
  2. What challenges do snowbound solar projects pose — and what solutions are available?
  3. How do you evolve robust design specifications for solar projects in harsh conditions?
  4. What specific logistical and climatic constraints should you account for while siting such projects?
  5. What factors should you consider while formulating an operations and maintenance plan?

One point that comes out clearly is that, when you embark on the challenge of high-altitude solar panels, the key to success is a holistic approach that accounts for local climatic and topographic variables, while bringing tested engineering solutions to the fore. 

Additionally, as the experts highlight in this report, based on the Himachal Pradesh case study, setting up is one challenge — but successfully operating over a period of time involves strong planning, maintenance, knowledge sharing, and local capacity building. 

As the cost of solar continues to fall, finding new ways to install more capacity makes increasing sense to help address climate change, use infrastructure funds well, and increase energy access and security for more people around the world.

Explore other recent Live Wire publications on energy and extractive industry topics.

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Surbhi Goyal

Senior Energy Specialist

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