Why small hydro projects are beneficial? – UPSC GS3

Hydropower In India
  • Hydropower is a renewable and non-polluting source of energy.
  • In India, the western Himalayan states of Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh are rich in hydropower potential as they have numerous glaciers and rivers.
  • India has a viable hydropower potential, which is estimated to be about 84,000 megawatts at a 60 percent load factor.
  • Currently, the installed capacity of hydropower in the country is 45,700 MW. India’s hydropower capacity is expected to reach 70 GW by 2030, according to MNRE.
  • Further, The Central Electricity Authority reported that the country has around 13,000 MW of hydropower plants under construction.
  • Small hydel power projects up to 25 MW in India are under the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE). Whereas, large hydel-power projects exceeding 25 MW are under the Union Ministry of Power.
Steps taken to increase Hydropower in India
  • The country has set a target of 175 GW of renewable power capacity by 2022, including 5 GW of small hydropower.
  • The power ministry in its draft amendment of the Electricity Act has proposed to include hydropower within the renewable purchase obligation targets, set for the state power distribution companies.
Why are large hydel power projects in the Himalayas a cause of concern?
  • There has been an increase in extreme weather events in the Himalayan states. Scientists have said many factors contribute to flooding, but the warming of the atmosphere, caused by climate change, makes extreme rainfall more likely.
  • For example, the Chamoli disaster in Uttarakhand in February 2021. More than 200 people lost their lives.
  • Further, increasing hydel power development in the Himalayas has drastically altered fragile ecosystems.
  • By releasing minimal water downstream, large hydroelectric projects have disrupted fish migration, leading to a loss of aquatic biota and diversity.
NEERI research report
  • National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) research has highlighted the detrimental effects of the Tehri dam on the unique capacity of Ganga Jal in the Bhagirathi to purify itself.
  • Large storage-based hydro projects also result in the submerging of villages and the displacement of people. Furthermore, they alter the volume of water flow downstream, which affects irrigation.
  • The Geological Survey of India reported that 97.42 percent of the area of Himachal is prone to landslide hazards.
  • One in four hydropower projects in the Himalayas is at risk from landslides caused by earthquakes and tremors, according to a study released last year by the Institute of Earth and Environmental Science in Germany.
  • Further, compensatory afforestation policies implemented to mitigate the loss of forest lands diverted for hydropower projects have resulted in more physical interference with natural landscapes.
Why small hydropower (SHP) projects are viable options?
  • The Union government should halt large hydropower projects in the Himalayas and promote only small hydropower (SHP). In general, SHPs do not encounter the problems associated with large hydel projects, which include the construction of dams, deforestation, and relocation.
  • Remote and isolated areas can benefit from these projects. These plants have a long useful life and their generation costs are almost inflation-free. In addition to conserving fossil fuels, the plants reduce carbon emissions because they substitute thermal power.
  • They are ideal for powering villages and far-flung or isolated areas. The accessibility of electricity in these areas will boost small-scale industries and thereby improve the socio-economic status of the residents.
  • As a result, SHP is one of the most attractive renewable sources of grid-quality electricity.
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