New Delhi: India is planning an exhaustive basin-wise study of the hydropower potential in the country after a gap of 28 years—an exercise to gather fresh data looking at energy security and factors ranging from climate change and earthquakes to human displacement.
The study will also assess the environmental and social impact of river basin development.
The last such survey was undertaken in 1978-87.
The Central Electricity Authority (CEA), India’s apex power-sector planning body, is leading the ambitious project, initiated in 2012, and plans to appoint a consultant for the work, amid concerns over climate change and its impact on rainfall and on river flow and its patterns, which in turn may have an impact on plans for hydropower generation.
This comes in the backdrop of widespread protests against hydropower projects from people who are at risk of being displaced by the projects.
Most of India’s hydropower potential falls in seismic zone 5, a region classified as highly vulnerable to high-intensity quakes. The exercise will also consider issues such as site geology, submergence and impact on environment and forests.
Hydropower projects come with their own set of problems. Their construction requires specialized technology and design. They also have to deal with geological surprises such as earthquakes, floods and landslides.
“We are reviewing India’s hydropower potential. A consultant will be appointed for the exercise,” said a government official, requesting anonymity.
Once a consultant is appointed, the exercise is expected to be completed in two-and-a-half years. India’s major river basins are the Ganga, Brahmaputra, Indus, central Indian river system, east-flowing river system and west-flowing river system. The exercise will involve preparing basin maps and longitudinal profiles of various rivers and their tributaries.
“Hydropower potential assessed by only taking into account hydrology and geological factors has very little meaning and that reflects in poor actual implementation vis-à-vis potential. Social impact, environmental impact, seismic conditions, etc., must be set as boundary condition, even for potential assessment,” said Debasish Mishra, senior director, consulting at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India Pvt. Ltd.
The current exercise comes at a time when the share of hydropower in the country’s energy mix is decreasing. India has a power-generation capacity of 267,637 megawatts (MW), of which 15.42% or 41,267.4MW comes from hydropower. India’s current hydropower-generation potential is estimated at 150,000MW from 845 projects. Also, another 94,000MW is estimated from pumped storage schemes.
“A proposal is with the power ministry. A lot of changes have taken place from the time of the last such review. Additional hydrological and topological data is available. It is an exhaustive exercise. The objective is to capture more accurate details. Factors such as seismic data will definitely be kept in view while carrying out the review. Also, setting up a hydropower project is an exercise where interdisciplinary organizations are involved,” said a second government official, who also requested anonymity.
A number of government agencies are involved in the execution of hydropower projects.
After a firm secures a project from the state where it is being built, a detailed project report (DPR) is prepared and sent to the CEA for techno-economic approval. The DPR is also examined by the Central Water Commission (CWC) for hydrology design, safety and cost estimates. In addition, the DPR also needs to be approved by the Central Soil and Material Research Station (CSMRS) for construction material aspects and the Geological Survey of India (GSI) for geological aspects.
Queries emailed to a power ministry spokesperson remained unanswered till press time.
Experts welcomed the move to gather fresh data.
“One of the difficulties with the hydropower sector has been the lack of availability of data. This review fills that gap and will be of tremendous use to planners and project developers. Hydropower is extremely important and helps in meeting peak and intermediate demand,” said former power secretary P. Umashankar.
“It is an excellent move—as this would facilitate structuring PPP (public-private partnerships) bids involving serious bidders, help bidders in getting financial closure and reduce implementation time of hydro projects, which currently averages more than a decade,” added Mishra of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.
Concerns have been raised about faltering hydropower generation and delays in project execution. A majority of India’s hydropower projects have been delayed, hampering the government’s efforts to increase power generation to meet galloping demand and boost economic growth.
Hydropower is the ideal solution for meeting peak demand as it is relatively easier to switch on and off, compared with coal-fuelled projects.
A third government official, who also didn’t wish to be identified, said, “CEA has proposed the basin-wise study for all hydropower potential in the country. A lot has changed since the earlier estimates were made in terms of climate change and its impact on rainfall, river flow, patterns, etc. The process is on.”
India has been hard-pressed to generate enough power to keep its economic engine running at a price that makes its manufacturing competitive. The National Democratic Alliance government is looking to supply adequate power at affordable prices and double electricity generation capacity to two trillion units by 2019.