Moving on up – India now world’s 5th largest hydropower producer

1 June 2020

India has overtaken Japan as the fifth largest world hydropower producer with its total installed capacity now standing at over 50GW

The International Hydropower Association (IHA) released its 2020 Hydropower Status Report last week, highlighting that hydropower continues to be the world’s largest source of renewable electricity with multiple non-power benefits. Despite slowed capacity growth over the last year compared to the previous year, hydropower is still growing and now boasts more than 1300GW of installed capacity globally.

The top 10 countries ranked by installed hydropower capacity are:

  1. China (356.4GW)
  2. Brazil (109.06GW)
  3. United States (102.75GW)
  4. Canada (81.39GW)
  5. India (50.07GW)
  6. Japan (49.91MW)
  7. Russia (49.86GW)
  8. Norway (32.67GW)
  9. Turkey (28.5GW)
  10. Italy (22.59MW)

Interestingly, it is pointed out that India has now overtaken Japan to sit at No 5 on this list. The report says that while only 154MW of capacity was added to the Indian hydropower sector in 2019, there was a 25 per cent increase in annual generation, plus announcements by government of a series of measures to incentivise greater development. Combined these provide an optimistic outlook for hydropower in the country. 

With more wind and solar expected in the country over the next few years, the Indian government has suggested it needs a significant increase in power system flexibility to ensure grid stability and avoid power shortages. This provides great opportunity for hydropower.

Large hydro declared renewable

Key to much of the optimism for hydropower in India is due to the Government’s announcement back in early 2019 that large hydro is officially classed as a renewable energy source. 

Previously, only projects under 25MW were declared renewable, but now all hydropower comes under this description. The Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also declared large hydropower projects as part of non-solar Renewable Purchase Obligation. 

Tariff rationalization measures were also introduced which includes providing flexibility to developers to determine tariff by back loading of tariff after increasing project life to 40 years, increasing debt repayment period to 18 years and introducing an escalating tariff of 2%.

Further measures to promote hydropower approved by the cabinet include: budgetary support for funding flood moderation component of hydropower projects on case to case basis; and budgetary support for funding the cost of enabling infrastructure i.e. roads and bridges on case to case basis as per actual, limited to Rs. 1.5 crore per MW for upto 200MW projects and Rs. 1.0 crore per MW for above 200MW projects.

Taken together, these measures have injected renewed confidence into the sector with nearly 35GW of capacity either currently under construction or in the development pipeline, the IHA report says.

Projects underway

Indian power company NHPC Limited announced in March 2020 that is has achieved its highest ever generation by generating 24209 Million Units (MUs) in the current year 2019-2020 (up to the end of February 2020). This surpassed its previous year (FY 2018-19) generation of 24193 MUs and is the highest ever generation by NHPC since its incorporation in November 1975.

The company is setting up new hydropower developments in the country. It recently announced that it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Cement Corporation of India Limited (CCI) that paves the way for addressing the cement requirement for the 2880MW Dibang Multipurpose Project in Arunachal Pradesh – the largest ever hydroelectric project to be constructed in India.

Dibang Multipurpose Project is located on the Dibang River, a tributary of Brahmaputra river. Image courtesy AF Constult

Upon confirmation of studies, CCI has proposed to install a clinker grinding unit near the project area, which besides fulfilling the cement requirement of Dibang, will also generate employment opportunities in the area subject to finalization of modalities subsequently.

Funds for Dibang were approved last year by the Indian government, with Rs. 1600 crore allocated for pre-investment activities and various clearances for the project 

The funds were approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi. The project is expected to cost Rs. 28080.35 in total, with construction expected to take nine years from receipt of Government sanction.

Located on the river Dibang, in Lower Dibang Valley District, the 12x240MW project will feature a 278m high concrete gravity dam, the highest dam in the country once complete, six horseshoe-shaped headrace tunnels of length varying from 300m to 600m with 9m diameter, an underground powerhouse and six horseshoe-shaped tailrace tunnels varying from 320m to 470m long with 9m diameter.

Dibang is envisaged as a storage based hydroelectric project with flood moderation as the key objective, with the project expected to protect the sizeable downstream area from floods. The project is a component of the master plan of Brahmaputra Board for flood moderation of all rivers contributing to the river Brahmaputra, helping to mitigate perennial damage due to floods in Assam.

The approval of the anticipated expenditure on pre-investment activities and various clearances will enable payment towards compensation for land acquisition and R&R activities (Rs. 500.40 Crores) to project affected families and state government, payment of Net Present Value (NPV) of forests, Compensatory Afforestation (CA), Catchment Area Treatment Plan (CAT) to the state government for forest lands, to secure the Forest Clearance (Stage-lI) and construction of roads and bridges for accessing project site.

In addition to the mandated R&R plan, it is also proposed to spend Rs. 241 crore on Community and Social Development plan and certain concerns raised by the local people during the public hearings. It is also proposed to spend an amount of Rs. 327 lakhs on a plan for protection of culture and identity of local people.

Towards the end of last year, the company signed an agreement to take over Lanco Teesta Hydro Power Limited, which was implementing the 500MW (125MW x 4) Teesta VI project on the Teesta river in Sikkim. 

The project will be implemented at an estimated project cost of Rs. 5,748.04 crore (at July 2018 price level), which includes a bid amount of Rs. 897.50 crore for acquisition. Earlier in March 2019, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs had approved the proposal for acquisition of Lanco’s 500MW Teesta Hydroelectric Power Project in Sikkim and execution of balance works for the Teesta VI Project. The project will be completed within five years.

Very recently, NHPC Ltd said it is looking at ways to move forward with the development of hydropower projects in the Union Territory of Ladakh

New hydro in Himachal Pradesh

Another firm involved in hydropower in the country is NTPC Ltd. Back in October last year, NTPC signed an agreement with the Himachal Pradesh government to set up two new hydropower projects in the state with a total capacity of 520MW

The MoU was signed by Shri Prabodh Saxena, Principal Secretary (Energy), Himachal Pradesh and Shri A K Gupta, Director (Commercial) NTPC Ltd in the presence of Shri Jai Ram Thakur, Hon’ble Chief Minister Himachal Pradesh, Shri Suresh Bhardwaj, Education Minister Himachal Pradesh, Shri Shrikant Baldi, Chief Secretary Himachal Pradesh and other officials and dignitaries at a Power Conclave organised by the State Government in Shimla in late September.

The two projects  – Seli (400MW) and Miyar (120MW) – are to be located in Chenab Basin at Lahaul & Spiti district. Seli will be a run-of-river project with pondage scheme,  while Miyar will be a run-of-river project without pondage scheme.

NTPC has already worked on hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh, namely the 800MW Koldam station, which has been operational since July 2015 providing 28% power to the state.

Harnessing hydro in Arunachal Pradesh

Another hydro developer, SJVN, recently expressed keen interest in tapping hydro projects totalling about 15,000MW in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh in the next 10-15 years, confirming that senior officials of the company were in direct contact with state officials regarding the projects.

Shri Nand Lal Sharma, CMD, SJVN, mentioned that SJVN has vast technical expertise in successful development of large hydro projects like the 1500MW Nathpa Jhakri hydropower station and the 412MW Rampur hydropower station on river Satluj Basin in Himachal Pradesh in extreme difficult geological conditions.

The Govt of Himachal Pradesh has already allotted four hydro projects to SJVN - namely 780MW Jangi Thopan, 210MW Luhri Stage-I, 172MW Luhri Stage-II and 382MW Sunni Dam projects, all on the Satluj River Basin. All these projects have been allotted on Build Own Operate and Maintain (BOOM) basis.  

The allocation of hydro projects on one single river basin has enabled SJVN to share manpower and infrastructure costs amongst projects, for optimum development of river basin. 

In February it was announced that equipment manufacturer Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) had successfully commissioned two units of the 4x15 MW Kameng hydroelectric project in Arunachal Pradesh. Notably, this is the largest unit rating (150MW) for hydro power generating sets in the state.

Being developed by North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited (NEEPCO), the greenfield hydro project is located in the West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh. Kameng is a run-of-the river scheme which will utilize the flow from Bichom and Tenga rivers.

Significantly, the Francis Turbine commissioned in this project is designed to operate at rated head of 501m, making it the highest head Francis Type turbine in the country. On commissioning of all four units, the project will be able to generate 3,353 Million Units (MU) of clean electricity annually.

BHEL’s scope in the project comprised design, manufacture, supply, installation and commissioning of four 150MW Vertical Francis Turbines & matching Synchronous Generators, Transformers, Control & Monitoring (SCADA) System along with associated auxiliaries. The equipment has been supplied by BHEL’s manufacturing units at Bhopal, Jhansi, Rudrapur, and Bengaluru, while erection and commissioning on site was carried out by the company’s Power Sector - Eastern Region division, Kolkata.

BHEL has made a significant contribution to the hydro sector of Arunachal Pradesh and has commissioned 710MW of hydropower projects in the state so far, accounting for around 84% of the total installed capacity in the state.

BHEL is presently executing hydroelectric projects of 5.8 GW, which includes 2.6GW of projects within India and 3.2GW abroad. In addition, BHEL is also carrying out comprehensive renovation and modernization of more than 699MW hydro projects across the country.

Hydropower proves itself

In April this year, India’s hydropower sector was heralded for restoring electricity to tens of millions of households following a huge plunge in demand in what is perhaps the largest electricity experiment the world has ever seen

The fall in demand of 31,089MW – equivalent to the entire power demand of Pakistan – came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for Indians to switch off their lights for nine minutes at 9pm on 5 April, to express solidarity amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

While the Prime Minister’s aim was to unite citizens during a time of crisis, the move presented a huge challenge for power operators, who are charged with managing grid stability.

India is the world’s third largest consumer of electricity and, according to IHA’s 2019 Hydropower Status Report, has the sixth largest hydropower sector by installed capacity.

India’s Power System Operation Corporation (POSOCO) had anticipated a much smaller reduction of 12,000 to 14,000MW in the nine-minute period than the 31, 089MW which ultimately took place.  

Following Modi’s announcement, the state-owned company reportedly held a conference call with all state load despatch centres and major hydropower stations on 4 April, and began mock exercises on hydro ramping almost immediately.

As the country reached closer to the lights-off vigil, hydropower generation was maximised. When people began switching lights off between 8.45pm and 9.10pm, hydropower generation was then quickly reduced from 25,559 MW down to 8,016 MW to match the demand reduction.

Thanks to hydropower’s unique flexibility, the stations were then able to ramp up within seconds to meet the increased demand, as Indian households began switching their lights back on.

In a preliminary report, POSOCO thanked hydropower operators, as well as thermal, gas and wind power operators, for their support and co-operation in meeting “this unprecedented challenge”. “The event was managed smoothly without any untoward incident while power system parameters were maintained within limits,” POSOCO said.

“This experiment provides a good example of how hydropower can provide flexibility and stability to the grid system under extreme circumstances,” said Nicholas Troja, a Senior Hydropower Analyst at the International Hydropower Association (IHA). “It again highlights the need for greater investment in flexible generation sources, particularly pumped hydropower storage.”

Professor Arun Kumar of the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee said: “The support provided by the flexibility of hydropower resources to meet the rapid drop and rise in the demand on 5 April 2020 triggered policy-makers to seriously think of installing hydropower projects, along with pumped storage.”


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