AIR spotlight summary on “Energy Crisis in India and Hydro Power projects”

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AIR spotlight summary on “Energy Crisis in India and Hydro Power projects”.




  • Prime minister dedicated three Hydro Electric power projects to the nation. These include 800 MW Hydro Power Station of NTPC- Koldam, 520 MW Parvati Project of NHPC and 412 MW Rampur Hydro Station of SJVNL.
  • Himachal Pradesh has the highest Hydro Power installed capacity in India. For states like Himachal Pradesh, Uttrakhand, Kashmir, Sikkim and North-East India hydro power remains important. Hydro power plays an important role in the economy of these regions. It provides electricity to the national grid. These projects involve lot of costs, around 8 to 10 crore per MW, other costs like social, environmental and opportunity costs.

Hydro power projects in India

  • Hydro power projects basically generate electricity from flowing water. Broadly there are few kinds of Hydro power projects.
  • Storage kinds of Hydro power projects are Sardar Sarovar, Tehri and Bhakra etc.
  • The newly developed is the run of the river Hydro power projects. In this power is generated from flowing water. There are dams for each of the run of the river Hydro power projects and which are big dams according to international definition. From these dams water is diverted into a tunnel and that tunnel comes back to the river a few kms downstream. The head which is a point where the water enters and exits is used to generate power.
  • There are also classified by their capacity. Projects above 25MW are called Large Hydro power projects and those below 25MW are called Small Hydro power projects. Below 2 MW are called Mini Hydro power projects, further classification of micro, Pico etc.  
  • Today India’s installed Hydro power projects capacity is 42,000 MW. It is about 16% of the total installed capacity whereas generation is around 11% to 12%. Most of the generation happens during monsoon.

Benefits of Hydro power projects

  • The key benefit of Hydro power projects is the peaking power. Peaking power means power plants that generally run only when there is a high demand, known as peak demand, for electricity. The demand of power goes up during morning and evening, and goes down during afternoon and night. There are daily and seasonal variations.
  • The thermal power project cannot be restarted when the demand goes up and shutdown when demand goes down. Whereas this can be done in Hydro power projects. Because of the capacity of Hydro power projects to be able to start and shutdown in short time it can provide during peaking hours.
  • This advantage is really available only if we optimise the operation of the Hydro power projects to provide maximum peaking power. Unfortunately we are not doing it today and the advantage is nullified.
  • Hydro power projects are clean and green source of energy.

Issues with Hydro power projects

  • Generation of Hydro power depends on the availability of water. When water is not available in the lean season, in summer and in drought year the generation drops.      
  • Other issues like social impact, where lot of people get displaced, livelihood and resources are affected. There are environmental impacts, Disaster related impacts.
  • Most of the new projects are coming up in Himalayan region which is vulnerable to disaster in terms of earth quake, landslides, erosion, and flash floods. In the era of climate change there are glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) which is because of the lakes which are created by the melting of glaciers which consists of boulders and silt.
  • There are cumulative impacts and there are issues of peaking power. The downstream projects can generate power when there is water upstream.
  • There are issues of generation performance. 89% of India’s installed capacity does not generate power at the promised level.
  • The graph for Per MW installed capacity and units of electricity generated; the graph goes down every year.
  • There is the issue of Siltation and maintenance of Hydro power projects. When we don’t allocate proper costs for maintenance then the generation suffers. Silt reduces the storage capacity and proportionally the power generation also goes down.
  • Hydro power projects do not consume fuel and it is assumed that there is no carbon foot print which is not correct. The World Commission on Dams has shown how the power generated particularly in tropical countries generates Methane. In one molecule of Methane there is 22 times more potent Green House Gas than CO2.
  • Hydro power projects involve deforestation which reduces the carbon sinks and thereby putting back more carbon into the atmosphere.                      
  • The frequency and intensity of Droughts will increase in the coming years. The rainfall patterns are changing. This will impact the power generation capacity of the Hydro power projects.
  • Every Hydro power projects are plagued by cost and time overruns. The reason is lack in the appraisal mechanism particularly geological appraisal.  

Need of the Hour

  • Having created the installed capacity of 42,000 MW we need to focus on optimising the operation and generation. We need to appraise the projects properly, have proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and proper public consultation process.
  • We should maintain the catchment area properly if not the rainfall which comes as flash floods damages the project.
  • We need to optimise the generation of existing Hydro power capacity and need to have proper technical appraisal and hydrological appraisal.
  • India is using more of ground water and this reduces the surface water flow in the downstream area. All these factors should be taken into account while assessing the generation of Hydro power projects.

Today solar and wind energy has over taken Hydro power projects in the installed capacity. In the future there is a need to ensure sustainable benefits from existing Hydro powe