For the first time in independent India’s history, hydropower generation from large hydropower projects in India in 2016-17 year fell below 10% of total electricity generation and is likely to go further down in years to come. It is well known that hydropower generation as proportion of total power generation has been going down. However, this proportion is generally seen in terms of installed capacity (measured in Mega Watts), and not actual generation (measured as Million or Billion Units[i]).
As per recently released figures by India’s premier technical body on power issues, Central Electricity Authority, the power generation from large hydropower projects (CEA only reports large hydro generation) in 2016-17 was 122.38 BU, when total power generation in India (including renewables generation of 81.97 BU, but excluding Bhutan imports of 5.62 BU) was 1236.39 BU, hence hydropower generation in 2016-17 was 9.90%, for the first time going below 10% of total generation. In previous year (2015-16), the proportion was 10.39% (hydropower generation of 121.38 BU compared to total power generation (including renewable generation of 65.78 BU but excluding Bhutan imports of 5.24 BU) of 1168.36 BU).
Looking at the trends, the total hydropower generation is likely to remain below 10% of total power generation in coming many years, since while hydropower generation is still going up, the total generation is growing at much faster pace. In fact, the total renewables generation is likely to overtake the total hydropower generation in current year or the next year.
Stranded Large Hydro projects Two major reasons for this declining proportion of hydropower generation are: diminishing generation of existing hydropower projects in India[ii] (see the graph below) and large hydropower projects becoming more and more unviable in spite of all the propaganda of they being clean, green, cheap and renewable sources of power. As power minister of India stated in the Parliament recently[iii], at least 15 large hydro projects (NHPC chief says 40 HEPs need bailout package, see below) with capacity close to 6000 MW remains stranded in India. These projects have received all the statutory clearances, but are not going forward due to financial or technical or inter-state or legal issues. The power ministry[iv] should stop wondering how to bail out unviable large hydropower projects through bailout packages of Rs 16000 crores and more. They need to understand that when solar and wind power is available at price below Rs 3 per unit, why is there attempt to push large hydro whose cost is universally close to over Rs 5 per unit at least for first decade or two.
India’s non optimal operation of hydropower projects India’s Power Minister, on June 23, 2017 released FOLD-POSOCO Report[v] on Operational Analysis for Optimization of Hydro Resources & facilitating Renewable Integration in India. The report concludes: “The report concludes that there is scope for additional peaking support of 3000-5000 MW with equivalent amount of backing down in off-peak hours from the existing hydro power stations. The gain from the optimized despatch on annual basis is estimated to be 5 paisa per unit which is equivalent to earning of the order of Rs. 600 crores per year at all India level.” This clearly shows that India’s hydropower capacities are performing far below its optimum peaking power generation potential, while we are not even assessing the social and environmental impacts of peaking mode of power generation.
Niti Ayog’s flawed NEP draft The Niti Ayog (which has replaced the erstwhile planning commission) has on June 27, 2017 come out[vi] with a Draft National Energy Policy and invited comments by July 14, 2017[vii]. The draft seems flawed at the outset. For example, on p 42 (top) the draft NEP says: “Arunachal Pradesh alone is touted to have a potential of 50,000 MW of hydro-power potential of which only 98 MW has been developed till March, 2016.” This is TOTALLY WRONG. Just one project, namely Ranganadi Hydropower project in Arunachal Pradesh has capacity of 405 MW, as per CEA’s generation report for March 2016[viii], the month that NEP refers to. Its projection of reaching 61000 MW large hydro capacity by 2022 is also clearly flawed, the current hydro installed capacity is less than 44500 MW and there is no possibility of reaching even 50 000 MW by 2022, leave aside 61 000 MW. The target of reaching 74 or 92 GW by 2040 is similarly neither viable nor desirable. It projects that generation from large hydro would reach 214 BU by 2022 is similarly either possible nor necessary, current annual generation is hardly 122 BU.
In conclusion The writing is clearly on the dam walls: In stead of hankering for unviable[ix] and destructive large hydro capacities, India needs to pay attention to optimizing generation from existing hydro and explore the possibilities of installing hydro projects at 97% of India existing large dams where there is no hydro component. We also need to first manage our peak hours’ power demand and optimize generation during such demands, only after assessing the addressing the social and environmental impacts of peaking hour power generation from large hydro projects. Else we will be destroying more rivers and their biodiversity and livelihoods of people dependent on such rivers, throwing more money into the pockets of contractors and other vested interests. The Ministry of Environment and Forests and its Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects too needs take this opportunity to improve our pathetic environmental governance rather than keep pushing more clearances for projects that are only likely to remain paper horses.
[i] One Unit equals one Kilowatt hour, which is the power generated when 1 KW of installed capacity runs for one hour. The units are actually consumable and provide the correct picture of power available for consumption.
[iv] See for example: http://www.hydroworld.com/articles/2017/06/bull-market-emerges-amidst-rumors-of-indian-hydroelectric-power-bailout.html, http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/opinion/interviews/government-bailout-is-required-to-revive-the-hydropower-sector-km-singh-cmd-nhpc/articleshow/59122447.cms
[vi] The Draft NEP can be seen at: http://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/new_initiatives/NEP-ID_27.06.2017.pdf and public notice inviting comments can be seen at: http://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/new_initiatives/Public%20Notice%20for%20Comments%20on%20Draft%20NEP%20.pdf
[vii] The deadline is clearly very short and needs to be extended.
[ix] Even NHPC chief agrees they are viable currently, see: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/opinion/interviews/government-bailout-is-required-to-revive-the-hydropower-sector-km-singh-cmd-nhpc/articleshow/59122447.cms