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  • 29 August, 2021

  • 24 Min Read

Hydroelectric power in India

Hydroelectric power in India

What is Hydroelectric power?

  • Hydroelectric power is electricity produced from generators driven by turbines that convert the potential energy of falling water into mechanical energy.

  • India overtook Japan in 2019 as the fifth largest world hydropower producer by capacity which currently is 50 GW. Only China, Brazil, the US and Canada have a greater hydropower capacity globally.
  • The country has 197 hydropower plants capable of producing more than 25 megawatts (MW), according to the International Hydropower Association (IHA), plus nine pumped storage stations accounting for 4,786MW capacity.
  • As of 31 March 2020, India's installed utility-scale hydroelectric capacity was 46,000 MW or 12.3% of its total utility power generation capacity. The public sector accounts for 92.5% of India's hydroelectric power production.
  • Additional smaller hydroelectric power units with a total capacity of 4,683 MW (1.3% of its total utility power generation capacity) have been installed.
  • India also imports surplus hydroelectric power from Bhutan.
  • Indian companies have also constructed hydropower projects in Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan, and other countries.
  • India is the world's third-largest producer and the third-largest consumer of electricity. The national electric grid in India has an installed capacity of 383.37 GW as of 31 May 2021. Renewable power plants, which also include large hydroelectric plants, constitute 37% of India's total installed capacity.
  • Companies engaged in the development of hydroelectric power in India include the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC), Northeast Electric Power Company (NEEPCO), Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVNL), Tehri Hydro Development Corporation, and NTPC-Hydro.
  • With a population of well over a billion people and a fast-growing economy, India’s electricity demand is expected to double over the next decade.

Advantages of Hydropower

  • A renewable source of energy - saves scarce fuel reserves.
  • Non-polluting and hence environment friendly.
  • Long life - The first hydro project completed in 1897 is still in operation at Darjeeling is still in operation.
  • The cost of generation, operation and maintenance is lower than the other sources of energy.
  • Hydropower is clean and cheap in long run. It has features like quick ramping, black start and reactive absorption — required for ideal peaking power or spinning reserve.
  • The ability to start and stop quickly and instantaneous load acceptance/rejection makes it suitable to meet peak demand and for enhancing system reliability and stability.
  • Has higher efficiency (over 90%) compared to thermal (35%) and gas (around 50%).
  • The cost of generation is free from inflationary effects after the initial installation.
  • Storage-based hydro schemes often provide attendant benefits of irrigation, flood control, drinking water supply, navigation, recreation, tourism, pisciculture etc.
  • Being located in remote regions leads to the development of interior backward areas (education, medical, road communication, telecommunication etc.)

Classification of Hydropower projects:

  • Hydropower projects are classified as large and small hydro projects based on their sizes.

1) Large Hydropower – Ministry of Power

  • India has an estimated hydropower potential of 1,45,320 MW, excluding small hydro projects (SHPs) which have 20 GW potential.
  • Several hydroelectric projects (HEPs) in India are languishing due to contractual conflicts, environmental litigations, local disturbances, financial stress and unwilling purchasers.
  • Only about 10,000 MW of hydropower could be added over the last 10 years.
  • India has close to 100 hydropower plants above 25 MW, plus nine pumped storage stations. In 2019, it surpassed Japan to become the fifth largest in the world for potential hydropower capacity, surpassing 50 GW.

2) Small Hydropower - Ministry of New and renewable energy (MNRE)

  • India has a history of about 120 years of hydropower.
  • In India, hydropower plants of 25MW or below capacity are classified as small hydro and comes under the purview of the Ministry of New and renewable energy (MNRE).
  • The first small hydro project of 130 kW commissioned in the hills of Darjeeling in 1897 marked the development of hydropower in India.
  • The Sivasamudram project of 4500 kW was the next to come up in the Mysore district of Karnataka in 1902, for the supply of power to the Kolar gold mines.
  • Following this, there were a number of small hydro projects set up in various hilly areas of the country.
  • Till Independence (1947), the country had an installed capacity of 1362 MW, which included 508 MW hydropower projects, mainly small and medium. As per MNRE, the estimated potential of a small hydropower plants is 20 GW across the country.
  • Depending upon the capacity of the project, a Small hydro Project can be classified as below:

  1. Micro (up to 100 kW)
  2. Mini (101 kW to 2 MW)
  3. Small Hydro (2 MW to 25 MW)
  • Hydro Power was being looked after by Ministry of Power prior to 1989 mainly with the help of State Electricity Boards.
  • In 1989, plant capacity up to 3MW and below was transferred to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and as such 63 MW aggregate installed capacity of 3MW and below hydro projects came within the jurisdiction of MNRE.
  • Subsequently, plant capacity up to 25MW and below was entrusted with the MNRE in November 1999.

Small Hydro Power Programme

  • It is an ongoing programme, however continuation of scheme w.e.f 1st April 2017 onwards is under consideration of the Government.
  • The objective of the SHP scheme is to encourage the State Government entities and Independent Private Producers (IPPs) to set up new Small Hydro projects so as to realise the entire 21000 MW potential in a phased manner.
  • The immediate objective is to encourage IPPs to start work on new projects of aggregate capacity of 1000 MW, in addition to completing the ongoing projects, so as to reach a cumulative capacity of 6000 MW by the year 2022.
  • The scheme also envisages support to set up watermills for electrical and mechanical applications in remote and far-flung areas.

Hydroelectric Potential in India

  • Hydropower potential is located mainly in northern and northeastern regions.
  • Arunachal Pradesh has the largest unexploited hydropower potential of 47 GW, followed by Uttarakhand with 12 GW.
  • The unexploited potential is mainly along three river systems — the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra (see Chart). India has several international issues across these river systems. Like electricity, hydropower should also be brought on the concurrent list to formulate uniform policies and processes for faster development.
  • India has over 90 GW of pumped storage potential, with 63 sites identified and recognised in national energy policies for their valuable grid services.
  • India has an estimated hydropower potential of 1,45,320 MW, excluding small hydro projects (SHPs) which has 20 GW potential.
  • The estimated potential of Small Hydropwer of 21135.37 MW from 7135 sites for power generation in the country from small / mini hydel projects is assessed by the Alternate Hydro Energy Centre (AHEC) of IIT Roorkee in its Small Hydro Database of July 2016.
  • The hilly States of India mainly Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Uttarakhand, and constitute around half of this potential. Other potential States are Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Kerala.
  • India ranks as the fourth country in the world by undeveloped hydropower potential, after Russia, China and Canada, and fifth by total potential, surpassed also by Brazil.
  • The basin-wise assessed potential is as under:-

Issues in Hydropower generation

  • In central India, the hydroelectric power potential from the Godavari, Mahanadi, Nagavali, Vamsadhara and Narmada river basins has not been developed on a major scale due to potential opposition from the tribal population.
  • Hydropower’s share in the electricity mix has, however, been decreasing over the years, accounting for around 10 per cent of generation, with the majority (80 per cent) coming from thermal generation.
  • Many current hydropower projects have been slow going with delays due to complex planning procedures, prolonged land acquisition and resettlement, a lack of enabling infrastructure including transmission, insufficient market scope and long-term financing.
  • Several hydroelectric projects (HEPs) in India are languishing due to contractual conflicts, environmental litigations, local disturbances, financial stress and unwilling purchasers.
  • Only about 10,000 MW of hydropower could be added over the last 10 years.
  • As water and water power are State subjects, the construction of HEPs is often delayed due to conflicts among riparian States — the Subansiri HEP is a prime example of this.

Clearance issues

  • Environmental clearance would remain necessary for HEPs.
  • Several HEPs were dropped or had their design and capacity modified due to environmental considerations.
  • Parameters like e-flow, free flow stretch, eco-sensitive zone, and impact on wild flora and fauna are now better defined.
  • Therefore, the hydropower potential including pumped storage hydropower should be reassessed using modern technology and environmental considerations.
  • Thermal projects do not require techno-economic clearance (TEC) from the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), but for HEPs with capital expenditure above ?1000 crore, the concurrence of the CEA is required.
  • Site-specific changes required during construction also need approval.
  • Clearance is given in consultation with the CWC, and takes an inordinately long time.
  • Processes must be revisited to reduce the time taken for the TEC. A unit of the CWC may be co-located within CEA itself.
  • Hydropower projects are more than engineering ventures. They have large-scale socio-economic and environmental implications.
  • HEPs often encounter geological surprises during construction. The land acquisition process is elaborate and requires a public hearing and approval of the Gram Sabha. Forest clearances take time.
  • Resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) issues are not only sensitive but also entail substantial costs. It has been experienced that projects do not envisage adequate cost on these items at the approval stage.
  • The subsequent arrangement means cost and time overruns. Adequate R&R cost should be made an integral part of the project cost. The project management team should also include experts from social science, environment as well as communication.
  • If HEPs could be allocated after obtaining requisite clearances on the pattern of Ultra Mega Power Projects, it would avoid undue delay and cost overrun.

Financial aspects

  • HEPs are located in difficult and inaccessible sites. They require the development of roads and bridges for project implementation. Roads and bridges provide higher opportunities for the development of neighbouring areas.
  • Hence, the Government of India has decided to give budgetary support for them. However, the process to grant financial support needs to be streamlined. Large HEPs perform flood moderation also, but they do not get any grant unless declared a national project by the Ministry of Water Resources. The Ministry of Power has now decided to support flood moderation. These measures would certainly make the cost of power workable.
  • HEPs have a debt-equity ratio of 70:30 and their tariff is designed to recover debt in the initial 12 years. This frontloading of tariffs makes hydro energy unviable. The government has now allowed debt repayment period and project life as 18 years and 40 years respectively, and has also introduced an escalating tariff of 2 per cent annually to reduce the initial tariff.
  • Requisite changes in tariff regulations are required to operate them. Though the tariff can be rationalised, it may not address cost and time overrun. Geological surprises, R&R issues and environmental factors result in several unforeseen situations not envisaged in the construction contracts, and lead to unnecessary arbitration, litigation, and delays in implementation.
  • Delayed or deferred payments incapacitate contractors financially. Therefore, a robust and reliable mechanism for quick resolution of contractual conflicts must be contrived in the system to fast-track the implementation of HEPs.

Solutions for Hydropower

  • India is committed to having 40 per cent of its installed capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030, and is pursuing a renewable target of 175 GW by 2022 and 450 GW by 2030. Therefore, hydropower is highly relevant for grid integration of renewable energy and for balancing infirmities.
  • Significant reforms made in recent years include the 2008 Hydro Power Policy encouraging private sector participation and the 2016 National Tariff Policy on frequency response markets and extended certainty of power purchase agreements.
  • The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) and the Ministry of Power have also been actively monitoring and fast-tracking priority schemes, notably the 50,000 MW Hydro Electric Initiative.
  • The government formally recognised large hydropower as renewable in 2019. This means that these projects built after March that year will be able to benefit from the renewable purchase obligation. Previously only projects up to 25 MW were considered renewable.
  • Policy proposals mooted by observers include new ancillary service markets, attributing hydropower full renewable status along with separate purchase obligation benefits, and more integrated planning.
  • Draft policies under preparation are expected to support stalled hydropower projects and private sector uptake and could include measures to make hydropower tariffs more competitive.
  • In 2020, the country’s hydropower sector was heralded for restoring electricity to tens of millions following a huge plunge in demand.
  • In 2019, the Teesta-V hydropower station in Sikkim was rated as an example of international good practice in hydropower sustainability, following an independent assessment.
  • Courtesy the Draft Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020, hydropower purchase obligation (HPO) may appear to become a reality soon.

Way Forward

However, a better option is re-engineering of the power market to treat hydropower as a peaking and grid-balancing power, and also to distribute its higher tariff over the entire energy consumption on a prorate basis.

Tehri Hydropower Project

  • Topping the list of hydroelectric power plants in India is the Tehri Dam in Uttarakhand, the highest hydroelectric power project in the country. It is also the eighth-tallest dam in the world and the second-tallest in Asia.
  • Commissioned in 2006, the first construction began in 1978 helped by technical collaboration from the former USSR.
  • Located at the confluence of the Bhagirathi and the Bhilangana rivers.

Sardar Sarovar Dam

  • This dam counts as the world’s second-largest concrete dam—after Grand Coulee which sits across River Columbia in the US—in terms of the volume of concrete used in its construction.

Source: TH

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