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The Indian government has released a draft plan to push small hydropower and some projects have been revived; what do these developments mean for the sector?

The Kouris Centri Turbine takes advantage of earth’s rotational force to produce power from sites where traditional technologies have failed. (Image by KapaLamda)

The year 2015 has been a significant one for the small hydropower (SHP) sector in India. In February, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) released some details of a new National Mission on Small Hydro. It announced plans to add 4,500 MW in the next three years, “for which preparation, including appropriate policy interventions will be done in the first two years of the Mission”. The aim is to generate competitively priced small hydro power, which is defined as up to 25 MW per station. The renewable energy (RE) target to be achieved by 2022 in this sector is 5,000 MW.

According to Bhuwanesh Kumar Bhatt, Director/Scientist-F, MNRE, the 11th Plan (2007-2012) target for small /mini hydro was 1,400 MW, while 1,419 MW was installed. Keeping in view the capacity of SHP projects currently under implementation and the gestation period, a target of adding 1,600 MW from small hydro has been fixed for the 12th Plan (2013-2017). The idea is to double the current rate and take it to a capacity addition of 500 MW per year with a total installed capacity of 5,000 MW by 2022. The government also proposes to harness about 50% of the SHP potential in the next 10 years. The cumulative achievement of the sector as on June 30, 2015 was 4,101.55 MW.

Yet another milestone was the revival of existing projects in Arunachal Pradesh. While one unit of Sippi project in Upper Subansiri district was restored in April 2015, the Rina small hydro project in East Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh, Tinning micro hydel scheme (MHS) in Changlang district, Saskorong MHS in West Kameng district, Mechuka MHS in West Siang district and Siri Korong MHS at Lhallung became operational in May.

Also, a memorandum of understanding that was signed by Canadian renewable energy developer P2 Solar Inc. to acquire the 5-MW Barkote 2 hydropower project was seen as a positive development. The facilities were the most recent addition to P2’s growing small hydropower portfolio, which includes the Tibba and Rajgarh projects. Construction on Tibba and Rajgarh is likely to begin soon, CEO Raj-Mohinder Gurm was quoted as saying.

Small hydro mission

Chandrasekhar, Managing Director, Bhoruka Power – the company which commissioned the first small hydro project in the private sector in independent India – feels that the slow progress of small hydro during the last decade was of great concern as this is one of the most mature technologies with high energy density, a good potential for rural development and employment. It also has a very long asset life, addresses issues of energy security and climate change. Most of all, it affords the cheapest life cycle generation cost. “The draft National Small Hydro Mission has tried to address several of these issues and the thought process is in the right direction,” he told “The need of the hour is to give a fillip to the stagnant SHP sector.”

“The aim of the mission is primarily to address issues responsible for decline of the sector in India and to regenerate interest of the private sector to invest in it,” said Bhatt of the ministry. “There are a number of canal drops in India and these can open new avenues for developing small hydro projects. The mission will work on technology development and establishing 1,000 MW SHP projects on canal drops, dam outlets and water outfall structures. It will help state governments renovate old SHP projects, improve their capacity and efficiency.”

Apart from identifying new potential sites, a programme of micro-hydro and water mill for hilly regions will be developed to provide off-grid power supply linked to economic activities in remote areas. For the purpose, the feasibility of the local grid will be worked out. In order to ensure the effective implementation of the mission, the measures which have been outlined are:

  1. To create an enabling policy framework along with state governments for the deployment of 5,000 MW of small hydro projects by 2019 and a platform for long term sustainable growth in the small hydro sector.
  2. Encourage and enable all states to participate in the mission by setting up new SHP projects and provide policy and institutional support for SHP projects by the private sector; a GIS database of potential sites will be set up for the purpose.
  3. Evaluate all existing government sector small hydro projects with a view to renovate, modernise and upgrade them, and to improve efficiency and add capacity wherever possible.
  4. Develop new technologies and engineering solutions to set up low and ultra-low head (less than three metres) small hydro projects on canals, dam outlets and water outfall structures. Projects of 1,000 MW on canals and existing water structures by 2019 have been planned too.
  5. Develop a network of water mills, individual household systems and micro-hydro projects in
    remote and rural areas; set up 5,000 water mills / micro hydro projects and establish local mini grids.
  6. Undertake a systematic study to identify new small hydro potential sites.

Revisiting the SHP project cost and tariff structure, creating investor friendly policies to tap the potential that exists in renovation and a focus to include key states in the Himalayas will help matters too. So will improving equipment manufacturing capabilities and skill development. The sector depends partially on getting Renewable Energy Certificates (REC) which it can either sell or hoard in the hope that the global carbon price will go up. Chandrasekhar hoped the authorities would make it easier than before to get RECs.

Tomorrow: Policy quagmire threatens small hydro

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