Intro: If China can generate 70 GW power through Small Hydro Power plants, given the will and determination, why can’t India generate substantial power through such plants?
Large multipurpose hydro projects have huge reservoirs. But power can also be generated from Small Hydro Power (SHP) units which are generally run of the river systems in which water flow is picked up at a height and brought down below into a powerhouse before being released back into the stream. With a capacity of 25 megawatts (MW) or less SHPs are classified as renewable energy and are placed under the Ministry for New and Renewable Energy.
Large multipurpose hydro projects have some disadvantages also such as loss of land, water logging, soil salinity, silting of dams, emission of methane, relocation of people and disasters. All such problems on top of on demand and abundant supply of cheap fossil fuels have weighed in favour of coal and gas fired thermal plants. Thus like elsewhere, in India also the proportion of hydro electricity in the total has been fallen continuously and from a high of more than 46 per cent to 16 per cent. SHPs have no such problems as they do not require impounding of water in huge reservoirs.
SHP plants have decided advantages as compared to solar and wind units. At 40-50 per cent they have a higher plant load factor as compared to about 17-18 per cent for wind and solar units with much longer life span. They deliver grid quality power but can also be utilised off grid and in local grids. These plants are totally indigenous with no forex outgo. So long there is water flow, SHPs can generate power 24×7. They are comparatively more predictable and flexible and do not require battery to store power. The cost of generation is also quite low in plant of 10 MW and more. Generally, these plants are economically viable, hence there was a sharp increase in private installed capacity during the 10th and 11th plans.
Identification of potential sites for setting up SHPs was first made in 1988-89 which was revised in 2002-03. As per the same the total number of identified projects is 6,474 with a capacity aggregating 19,749 MW. Half of this is in hill states but significantly the other half is in states like Karnataka, Kerala, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. Till February this year, 1001 plants with installed capacity of 3,832 MW have been set up in the country, including 320 with capacity of 1662 MW in private sector. Government of India has prepared a plan to generate 175GW of power from renewable sources in which the share of SHP is 5GW.
Recently the cost of SHPs has gone up from Rs 5-6 crore to Rs 8.5-9.5 crore per MW. It may go up further with increased cost of land acquisition. The tariff, Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) and Renewable Purchase Obligations (RPO) are being decided by the regulators i.e. the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) at the Centre and State Electricity Regulatory Commi-ssion (SERC) at the State level. CERC introduced REC mechanism to make tariff remunerative to renewable energy developers by making it obligatory upon the distributors, captive consumers and open access users to purchase a predetermined quantity of renewable energy or RECs in lieu thereof. It couldn’t take off due to non-compliance by the obligated entities. Investors have thus suffered and their interest in SHPs eroded. Government has no say in the matter but it can assist the regulators with necessary and updated cost and other information so that this vital areas remains economically viable and thus attractive to the investors. In its order dated May 13, 2015 the Supreme Court ruled that RPO on captive consumer is justified. Now the National Mission on Small Hydro has targeted to achieve that level by 2019 itself. Since water is State subject, Centre has to encourage and assist the State Governments to push with the SHP. It is also proposed to build 5,000 micro hydel projects and local mini grids.
—JP Dubey (July 19, 2015 Page :18)