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Renew | May 2014

Hydropower: What lies in store?

Hydropower remains one of the critical options to address the country´s energy shortages, but its share in the energy mix has been constantly declining. What is the way ahead?
  • In 1970, hydropower accounted for 44 per cent of India´s power generation. Today it is just 17.5 per cent.
  • Of the total 88,537 MW capacity envisaged in India´s 12th Five-Year Plan, only 10,897 MW (12 per cent ) will be hydropower.
  • Since 2002-03, 26 hydroelectric projects cleared by Central Electricity Authority (CEA) as technically viable have yet to be cleared by the Environment Ministry.
  • 21 projects, with an aggregate installed capacity of 7,724 MW, are still under CEA´s scrutiny.
  • Several hydroelectric projects have either been delayed or dropped for various reasons.

Are the above facts and figures an indication of India moving away from hydropower? If so is it a move in the right direction? More so, when India is endowed with economically exploitable and viable hydro-potential assessed to be about 84,000 MW at 60 per cent load factor. Yet, the country has exploited the potential only to the extent of 18 per cent. ´India is yet to harness its hydropower potential in an optimum manner and the growth of hydropower in the country has in fact been decelerating of late, when compared to other sources,´ says Rohit Mittal, Senior Energy Specialist, the World Bank. ´From 44 per cent in 1970, the share of hydropower in the energy mix has decreased to less than 18 per cent today. Only 5.5 GW of hydropower capacity was added out of the targeted 15.6 GW during the XI Plan period. With a total potential of more than 148 GW (in terms of installed capacity), hydropower remains one of the critical options to address the energy/peak shortages and limit the carbon intensity of the power sector in India,´ he adds. The World Bank is currently supporting two hydro-projects in India - Rampur Hydropower project in Himachal Pradesh and Vishnugad Pipalkoti Hydroelectric Project in Uttarakhand.

While agreeing that hydropower generation has been declining in the country Dr. Praveen Saxena, Advisor, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) however avers that the Indian government´s emphasis is still on hydropower development along with other renewable sources: ´Despite hydroelectric projects being recognised as the most economic and preferred source of electricity, the share of hydropower in our country has been declining since 1963 - from 50 per cent in 1963 to about 17 per cent in 2013. For grid stability the ideal hydro-thermal mix ratio for Indian conditions is 40:60. In order to correct the hydro-thermal mix to meet the grid requirements and peak power shortage, the Government of India announced a Policy on ´Hydro Power Development´,´ reveals Saxena.

The Advantages
Evidently hydropower is recognised as one of the potential sources for meeting the growing energy needs of the country. It is considered relatively environment friendly with no pollution ramifications and ideally suited for peaking operation.

´The ability of hydropower plants to respond quickly to demand fluctuations makes them the ideal source to cope with demand peaks and to stabilise system frequency. Hydropower can also provide the balancing capacity required for the large scale integration of renewable energy sources into the grid that are characterised by high degree of variability in generation, which is also a focus area for the country in order to meet its energy needs,´ explains Mittal.

´Hydropower is recognised as a renewable source of energy, which is economical, non-polluting and environmentally benign among all renewable sources of energy,´ maintains Dr. R.P. Saini, Head, Alternate Hydro Energy Centre (AHEC), while listing out the plus points: ´A hydropower plant generates energy by using potential energy of flowing water, which is available in abundance free of cost. Hydropower generation has merits over other forms of energy generation, as it is pollution free, comparatively less costlier and good for intermittent and peak demand. The ideal mix for India is thermal and hydro with 60:40 ratio as thermal power generation is good for base load.´

The Barriers
Yet the development of hydro-projects has been on the slow track for various reasons like inaccessible sites, poor infrastructural facilities, land acquisition problems, environment and forest issues, submergence of land, resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R), law & order situation, longer gestation period, geological surprises resulting in time and cost over-runs, inter-state disputes, issues on apportionment of project cost among various beneficiaries, security restrictions in border areas and lack of adequate skilled manpower, lack of availability of long term finance, cumbersome process for environment clearances, etc.

Yogesh Daruka, Director - Power & Utilities, PwC India elaborates: ´Various factors such as environmental concerns, R&R issues, land acquisition problems, long clearance and approval procedures, capability of developers, etc. have contributed to the slow pace of hydropower development. These issues have been compounded as hydropower development has remained under the ambit of State governments (water being a State specific subject) with varying policies (e.g. upfront premium, royalty power, land acquisition policy, etc.) adopted by the States. A concerted national level effort is the need of the hour to address safeguard issues, financing requirements and development models for promoting hydropower growth.´

Concurs Saini, ´Large hydro-projects are having certain disadvantages which has earned much social opposition due to requirement of huge land posing demographic issues, major social and ecological impacts. Large hydro reservoirs are often rendered non-renewable due to sedimentation.´

The Measures
But the barriers are not insurmountable and can be mitigated with several right measures, aver industry pundits. In addition to streamlining the policy and regulatory environment, several other suggestions have been put forward.

Daruka lists out the areas where government intervention can create a positive environment: ´Concerted government intervention would be required in following areas: putting in place acceptable R&R norms, addressing environmental concerns and land acquisition issues, setting up acceptable development models, benefit sharing framework to attract capable and qualified private players, ensuring adequate returns for investors through appropriate regulatory mechanisms and addressing concerns related to evacuation arrangement and power sale.´

Mittal´s advice focuses on project allotment process and development: ´Basin Wide Studies should be the basis for allotment of new projects. They must be identified, reviewed and awarded in line with an overall river basin plan including looking at the evolving areas like cumulative impact assessments (CIAs). Coordination at the river basin level would imply sharing of data, joint studies, collective decision making etc. This is also in line with the international practice. There is also a need to allocate more resources for undertaking detailed investigations on different aspects of the project design. This implies use of latest tools and techniques like preparation of Geotechnical Baseline Report, risk registers, use of investigation techniques like 3-D modelling and LiDAR during project preparation and modern tools/techniques like exploring options for use for modern techniques for tunnel support during construction and mechanised options like Tunnel Boring Machines etc., to allow for mitigating the risks of dealing with geological uncertainties and cost and time overruns. There is also a need to focus on measures which will allow for greater participation and benefit sharing with the local community.´

The Way Forward
The focus is also slowly shifting to small hydropower plant (SHP) development which does not have the repercussions of the large ones, and can also play a critical role in improving the overall energy scenario of the country particularly in remote areas. Hydropower projects up to 25 MW capacities have been categorized as SHP projects in India.

´Small hydropower is the only clean and renewable source of energy available round the clock. It is a reliable, eco-friendly, mature and proven technology, more suitable for the sensitive mountain ecology. It can be exploited wherever sufficient water flows, along small streams and medium to small rivers and does not involve setting up of large dams thereby doing away with problems of deforestation, submergence or rehabilitation. It requires small capital investment, short gestation period and low payback period,´ informs Dr. Saini. AHEC, an academic centre of the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee provides professional support for development of small hydropower projects in several areas: planning, project reports, engineering designs, renovation and modernisation of SHP stations, etc.

Seconds Dr. Saxena: ´The SHP projects normally do not encounter the problems of deforestation and resettlement, associated with large hydel projects. Beside grid power, the SHP projects also have the potential to meet the power requirements of remote and isolated areas in a decentralised manner. The estimated potential for power generation from SHP projects is about 20,000 MW.´ MNRE is vested with the responsibility of developing Small Hydro Power (SHP) projects.

The future for hydropower be it small or big is evidently bright if the right measures are taken at the right time. In this context, integrated hydroelectric projects involving not only supply of electricity but also providing for drinking water, irrigation and flood moderation, etc., are also considered an ideal model.

Internationally too hydro is still ruling the roost, says Daruka: ´Climate change and other negative effects of using fossil fuels for power generation along with growing concerns over energy security are driving the expansion of hydropower even in other countries. Though reservoir based hydro projects have come under some criticism due to CO2 and methane emission beyond acceptable limits, most of the hydro rich countries have followed an integrated approach to ensure sustainability by cooperating with other water-using sectors, and taking a full life-cycle approach for assessment of the benefits and impacts. To add on, hydro-power´s storage capacity, fast response characteristics and low operating costs ensure that countries around the world would continue to focus on it as a key source of electricity generation.´

In addition, India has to also focus on alternative sources of energy which has become a necessity today as evinced by Mittal, ´Given the existing power demand-supply gaps in the country, more than 300 million people without access to electricity and low per capita consumption levels, India needs to look at all the available sources of power generation and tap them in a technically, environmentally and socially sustainable manner.´

Seconds Saini: ´Since we are power deficient, we should try to tap every source from hydro including small hydro to thermal, nuclear, solar, wind, biomass, tidal and geothermal. Once we have surplus power generating capacity, we may be choosy for future development. Considering the large potential of hydropower in India, the future of hydropower is very bright.´

So the way forward for India is still hydro-centric with perhaps other sources chipping in.
Janaki Krishnamoorthi

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