India's hydropower output plunges to four-decade low

2 April 2024

India's hydroelectricity production has witnessed its sharpest decline in at least 38 years, according to a Reuters analysis of government data. The precipitous 16.3% drop in hydro generation during the fiscal year ending March 31 was exacerbated by erratic rainfall patterns, necessitating increased reliance on coal-fired power amidst rising demand.

This significant downturn in hydroelectric output coincides with a noteworthy shift in the renewable energy sector. For the first time since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's commitments to bolster solar and wind capacities at the 2015 United Nations climate talks in Paris, the share of renewables in India's power generation has dwindled. Renewables accounted for 11.7% of India's power output in the fiscal year ending March, down from 11.8% the previous year, as indicated by a Reuters analysis of daily load dispatch data from the federal grid regulator, Grid-India.

India, the world's third-largest greenhouse gas emitter, has often justified its escalating coal usage by pointing to lower per-capita emissions compared to developed nations. However, the nation's hydroelectricity woes may exacerbate its carbon footprint further. With reservoir levels at a five-year low, hydro output is anticipated to remain subdued during the impending April-June period, potentially amplifying reliance on coal-fired power ahead of the monsoon season.

K. J. Ramesh, former chief of the Indian Meteorological Department, emphasized the uncertain nature of hydroelectricity's contribution amidst erratic rainfall patterns. While prospects of abundant rainfall loom for the forthcoming monsoon season, any tangible impact on hydroelectric output may not manifest until July. Ramesh cautioned against over-reliance on hydroelectricity as a consistent power source in the face of unpredictable weather patterns.

The declining share of hydroelectric power in India's energy landscape has hit a historic low, plummeting to 8.3% of total power output during the fiscal year ended March 31. This marks a stark departure from the 10-year average of 12.3% through 2020. The slowdown in capacity additions, coupled with diminished rainfall, has precipitated this decline.

Conversely, the ascension of coal, solar, and wind energy sources has been notable, with coal and lignite generation witnessing a robust 13.9% increase in 2023/24. While renewable output also surged by 9.7%, India remains 38.4 gigawatts short of its 2022 target to install 175 gigawatts of renewable energy. Moreover, India's reliance on fossil fuels soared to a five-year high of 77.2% in 2023/24, further underscoring the nation's energy transition challenges.

Globally, the hydroelectric sector faced setbacks, with output declining for only the fourth time since 2000, largely due to lower rainfall and warmer temperatures attributed to the El Nino weather pattern. Notably, India's hydro output plummeted nearly seven times faster than the global average, according to data from the energy think tank Ember, despite being the sixth-largest hydropower producer worldwide.




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