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Hydropower potential in India

Published: 23rd Mar, 2023


Recently, the Parliament had informed that India has exploited 29 per cent of its hydropower potential against over 80 per cent and 70 per cent developed by the US and European Union respectively.

About the information:

  • As per the Reassessment Study carried out by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) during 1978-1987, the assessed hydropower potential in the country is about 1,45,320 MW (for projects with capacity above 25 MW).
  • The main challenges in the development of hydroelectric potential in the country are remote location, unpredictable geology, natural calamities, environment and forest issues, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R) issues, law & order issues and inter-state issues.
  • The coal stocking norms of the Central Electricity Authority mandate the power plants to maintain coal stock which varies from month to month basis.

The stocking norms are 20 to 26 days in non-pithead plants and 12 to 17 days in pithead plants so as to ensure sufficient coal stock at power plants to meet demand.

Central Electricity Authority:

  • CEA is a Statutory Body constituted under the erstwhile Electricity (Supply) Act, 1948, hereinafter replaced by the Electricity Act, 2003, where similar provisions exists, the office of the CEA is an “Attached Office” of the Ministry of Power.

Hydroelectric Potential in India:

  • Hydropower potential is located mainly in northern and north-eastern 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
  • 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.

Issues in Hydropower generation:

  • Development vs. Indigenous communities: 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.
  • Majority power from thermal source: 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.
  • Complex clearance norms: 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.
  • Environmental concerns: 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.
  • Centre-state dispute: 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.

Major Hydropower projects in India:

  • 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.

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