India, as per Central Electricity Authority’s (CEA) assessment, is endowed with an estimated hydropower potential of 148,700 MW of installed capacity. In addition, hydro-potential from small, mini and micro schemes has been estimated as 6,782 MW. But the hydro share in the energy mix has fallen from around 46% in the 1960s to around 15% currently. This decline is because hydro-power suffers from challenges such as non-availability of long-term financing, environmental concerns, rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) issues, land acquisition problems, delays and non-clearance on environment and forest aspects, etc. Also construction and operation of hydro-power dams can reportedly affect fish and wildlife populations. The devastating 2013 Uttarakhand flash-flood served to further damage perception regarding hydro-power generation. Reportedly Uttarakhand has a fragile eco-system and activity required for hydro-power projects (such as mining, construction, etc) can contribute towards weakening the already fragile area. So due to various factors, till April 2015, around 21 hydro-power projects were facing time overruns of five or more years. But the govt has taken a number of initiatives to prioritise hydropower development and attract investments in the sector. Recently Power Minister Piyush Goyal had said that a scheme for providing long-term funds to revive stalled hydro-power projects is being worked out and that he will speak to state power ministers (since water is a state-specific subject) on how they could help revive stalled hydropower projects.
Similarly, hydro-power technology could be made more efficient so that it can respond to new challenges. Real-time data provides diagnostics on faults and allows predictive maintenance operations, generating huge savings for the plant. Using such data, operators in keeping with global trends of asset performance and management can take the right decisions at the right time and meet challenges of the new hydro market where speed, efficiency and optimisation are vital.
Also in the current scenario, over-dependence on coal-based generation poses a threat to energy security. In view of increasing pressure on the govt to reduce the country’s carbon footprint by harnessing clean energy sources, hydro-power (as it does not employ fossil fuels to generate electricity) also prevents the release of up to 249 tonnes of CO2 into the earth’s atmosphere each year. As an added benefit, IRENA’s estimates suggest that hydro-power by 2030 will be the second largest source of employment within the renewables industry. In view of all the above advantages, hydro-power with some safeguards in place, can emerge as a sustainable solution for both energy generation as well as energy security.