With 46,723 MW of installations as of May 2022, India’s hydropower segment is a significant contributor to the country’s energy mix. The total hydropower capacity has increased by roughly 5 per cent
when compared to 44,594 MW of installations in May 2017. Meanwhile, the fastest growing renewable energy segment, solar has witnessed an increase of 77 per cent in these five years. In fact, the country’s solar power installations at 56,951 MW far outshine the hydropower deployments. Factors such as long gestation periods, intensive capital requirements, long approval timelines, as well as environmental and social concerns have led to a slowdown in hydropower development in India. However, recent policy interventions such as categorisation of hydropower as “renewable”, hydropower purchase obligations and budgetary support for flood moderation and enabling infrastructure are expected to aid this segment’s further growth.
Moreover, as India moves towards 500 GW of non-fossil fuel-based energy by 2030, hydropower is expected to play a key role in this energy transition journey. Apart from providing clean energy, it can help in balancing the intermittency of increasing volumes of renewable power in the grid. Moreover, pumped hydropower storage can help in load levelling, peak load sharing and managing grid stability in times of erratic power demand and supply.
Thus, as the government irons out the kinks in this space through policy and regulatory interventions, there has been significant focus on improving the efficiency of existing hydropower projects through better operations and maintenance (O&M) practices. Further, advanced digital technologies are being deployed and there is adequate impetus to renovation and modernisation (R&M) of hydropower plants. Meanwhile, pumped storage projects are the talk of the town, with large assets being planned across the country to help in renewable energy integration into the grid.
A brief look at the technology trends in the hydropower space…
R&M of hydropower assets
R&M, by definition, restores lost capacity through renovation of existing assets and improves their performance, efficiency and reliability. Many hydropower projects are already quite old with obsolete technology and thus, R&M helps deal with this technological obsolescence. Another benefit of R&M is that modernisation can be carried out with relatively fewer approvals, land clearance requirements, and rehabilitation and resettlement issues, rather than setting up completely new projects. Owing to all these factors, R&M is highly cost effective when compared to setting up of new hydropower projects of the same capacity
During 2017-22, renovation, modernisation, uprating and life extension works for 22 hydropower projects have been planned. This aggregate capacity of 4,847.8 MW includes R&M of 12 projects with 3,729.6 MW capacity, life extension of seven projects with 433.2 MW capacity and life extension and uprating of three assets with 685 MW capacity. The revised aggregate capacity of these 22 projects is expected to be 4,964 MW. Similarly, R&M works are planned at 57 projects during 2022-27. The present aggregate capacity of 9,016.3 MW will increase to 9,078.8 MW as a result of these activities.
Asset management and O&M
Asset management is a long-term approach for O&M to ultimately improve the performance of a power plant. It helps optimise power generation efficiency, output, risk management and compliance with various statutory requirements. Integrated asset management would require not only a proper O&M strategy but also correct documentation, repair and rehabilitation, and R&M, so as to properly utilise the power plant to its full potential, besides extending its life.
O&M helps to ensure that all standard operation procedures are being followed. If required, further improvements can be made in operation procedures. Pre- and post-monsoon periodic dam safety inspections are an important O&M activity in hydropower plants. The Dam Safety Act, 2021 was formulated to ensure safe functioning of dams and to provide for the surveillance, inspection and O&M of specified dams. The guidelines for safety inspection of dams include an overview of dam inspection, a dam safety inspection programme, inspection of embankment/concrete/masonry dams, inspection of spillway outlets and mechanical equipment, and inspection of general areas. They also include visual inspection and use of remotely operated vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles, documentation and a comprehensive dam safety review by a panel of experts.
Similar to other renewable power plants, digitalisation of hydropower plants can play a significant role in maximising the value of current assets and help improve productivity. Further, O&M costs can be significantly reduced, and safety considerations can also be better managed. Many advanced tools are used nowadays to improve performance, including artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, internet of things, computational fluid dynamics, unmanned aerial vehicles and robotics.
As a first step, constant data collection is important to help in analysis and identification of deviations and possible faults. Smart software can be integrated to help detect defects before they occur, and thus save significant project downtime. Advanced real-time monitoring systems can be taught to identify normal parameters of plant functions, and can thus raise an alert in case of an anomaly.
Digital controllers with more accurate measurement of input and output parameters such as flow, pressure and power can help improve project efficiency of hydropower plants. Intelligent control systems are more useful to achieve precise adjustments in regulators. This regulation will be of vital importance when hydropower plants are required to operate taking into consideration more and more integration of renewable energy into the grid. Digitalisation makes O&M of power plants evolve from corrective to preventive and finally to predictive, so as to significantly reduce breakdowns, save costs and increase generation. When used in forecasting, digital technologies help improve prediction accuracy of renewable energy resources. This helps hydropower plant operators to schedule their operations accordingly.
Pumped storage projects
Pumped storage plants, which are ideal for energy storage and load balancing, are becoming increasingly important in India’s energy landscape on account of the plans to integrate large volumes of renewable energy into the grid. As of May 2022, there are eight pumped storage projects installed in the country, with a total capacity of 4,746 MW. However, only six of these – Kadamparai, Bhira, Srisailam, Ghatgar, Purulia and Nagarjunasagar – with a total capacity of 3,306 MW are working in pumping mode and the remaining two work only in generation mode.
According to the latest Central Electricity Authority data, there are three pumped storage projects with a total capacity of 2,700 MW under active construction. These include the 1,000 MW Tehri Stage II project in Uttarakhand, the 500 MW Kundah Stages I, II, III and IV project in Tamil Nadu and the 1,200 MW Pinnapuram project in Andhra Pradesh. Meanwhile, the 80 MW Koyna Left Bank project in Maharashtra is held up at present and the detailed project report for the 1,000 MW Turga project in West Bengal has been approved. The importance of pumped storage projects for India’s clean energy transition can be gauged from the fact that survey and investigation is in progress for 18 projects totalling 18,270 MW of capacity and a further 30 projects with 20,930 MW of capacity are at pre-feasibility stage.
Private parties, with massive clean energy deployment plans, have also shown a keen interest in this space. Thus, there have been various announcements regarding development of pumped storage projects recently. The Greenko Group is a key player in this space and is constructing four pumped storage projects. In February 2022, it entered into an arrangement with Ayana Renewable Power to provide standalone storage capacity. The two companies plan to create despatchable renewable energy solutions for industrial and distribution companies in India, including round-the-clock power supply of up to 1 GW. Greenko then entered into a strategic partnership with ArcelorMittal to construct a round-the-clock 975 MW nominal solar and wind project, which will be supported by the former’s pumped storage project. Further, in April 2022, the JSW Group announced its plans to develop a 900 MW pumped storage hydel power project in West Bengal. The West Bengal government has agreed to construct a third pumped storage power plant at the Bandhunala project in Purulia.
Hydropower is a key segment for India’s energy transition, and as such, deserves the right focus. While growth in this segment has been slow over the past few years owing to sectoral challenges, policy interventions are being proposed in this space to help increase its uptake. In addition, efficient O&M practices, deployment of digital tools and R&M of existing assets can help utilise the capacity of existing hydropower plants more effectively. Meanwhile, pumped storage projects are also expected to continue to gain traction as renewable energy integration is increasing.