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Power surplus gas, coal plants, state boards' erratic cuts responsible for drop in hydro power supply: Modi aide

By Our Representative
Top technocrat Babubhai Navalawala, currently heading a Government of India panel on inter-linking of rivers, has said that the real reason behind a huge drop in India's hydro power generation is the problem of surplus generating capacity in thermal and gas-based power projects.
Sharply reacting to a Counterview story (click HERE), which quotes a report by the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) to say that India's hydro power generation has dropped sharply because of climate change, Navalawala, who has been Gujarat chief minister's water resources adviser ever since the Modi days, has said:
"I have read with keen interest as well as deep concern Counterview post dated June 13, 'Impact of climate change: India's hydro power generation drops by 20%, by 45% in western region: SANDRP'.
"I feel that the article does not present a full picture and awards the entire lack of generation to the non-availability of water. The real problem is the surplus of generating capacity in thermal and gas based power projects.
Babubhai Navalawala
"Coupled with this, the state electricity boards are artificially lowering the peak to avoid buying the peaking power ( they create 6-12 hour blackouts and do not buy power). since hydro power is primarily utilized for peaking operations, there have been complaints from the hydro power producers about the lack of demand.
"You may like to cross-check the above facts."
***
Disagreeing with Navalawala, Himanshu Thakkar of SANDRP, on whose report the Counterview story is based, has sent in the following reaction:
India’s power scenario is indeed complex and is not amenable to simplistic conclusions. There are so many factors at play here, and not all factors are quantifiable or quantified. All analysis has to keep these limitations in mind.
At the same time, lack of sufficient information cannot be used to escape some conclusions. In this context, Babubhai Navalawala’s response dated June 16, 2016 to the article published by Counterview on June 13, 2016i tries to escape certain conclusions.
However, let us begin with areas of agreement. I largely agree with Navalawala when he says: “The real problem is the surplus of generating capacity in thermal and gas based power projects. Coupled with this, the state electricity boards are artificially lowering the peak to avoid buying the peaking power (they create 6-12 hour blackouts and do not buy power).” However, this does not contra-indicate anything I have written in the article.
Himanshu Thakkar
His next sentence, though. is seriously problematic: “Hydro power is primarily utilized for peaking operations, there have been complaints from the hydro power producers about the lack of demand.”
Before we go into this statement, let us understand what is peaking power. The demand for electricity is not constant in our grid. In any given day, demand generally goes up during morning (6-10) and evening (7-11) hours, the demand is generally low during rest of the hours.
Since hydro power projects can theoretically started and shut down at short notice of a few minutes, they are used to satisfied such extra power demands during peak hours. Thermal and nuclear power stations cannot do this since it is not possible to start and shut down such projects at such short notice.
Gas-based thermal power projects can perform peaking operation, but there are practical difficulties since there is insufficient availability of gas. Renewables like solar and wind operate when there is sunlight and wind respectively, so they too cannot satisfy peaking power demands.
Now let us take the first half of this statement of Navalawala.
Is it true that hydro power is primarily utilised for peaking operations? NO
Is there any evidence to that effect? NO.
Is there any agency that is monitoring as to how much of the hydro power generation is during peaking hours? NONE. CEA is not doing it, Ministry of Power is not doing it. CERC or SERCs are monitoring project level generation, but there is no estimation from them as to how much of the power generation from hydropower projects is during peak hours. State governments or their power departments are not reporting these figures, nor are the specific developers.
So do we know how much of hydro power generation is during peaking hours? NO.
And, do we know cases when hydro power projects are NOT operating as peaking power? Yes, many. To just illustrate, even CERC has in the past given specific instances when Hydro projects like the 1500 MW Nathpa Jakhri and 1000 MW Tehri were operating base load stations when they could have operated as peaking stations. All run of the river hydro power projects operate as base load stations in monsoon.
Similarly, due to lack of upstream downstream flow management, the water reaches many of the hydropower projects even in non monsoon months at such hours that they cannot operate as peaking stations.
If we need hydro projects for peaking power, are we doing anything to manage our peaking power demand? NOTHING.
In that case, is there any justification for putting more hydro in the name of peaking power demands? None, it seems to be, but you be the judge!
In the second half of the statement quoted above, Navalawala says: “There have been complaints from the hydro power producers about the lack of demand.” This could be the case, but there is nothing in public domain to substantiate this.
Maybe Navalawala would like to provide details. In any case, I doubt there is any case of hydro power project that had to stop generation for lack of demand. It will be a news if that is indeed the case, hope Navalawala will provide such details.
That leaves us with his primary concern about the Counterview article: “The article does not present a full picture and awards the entire lack of generation to the non-availability of water.”
From all available information, the reduction in electricity generation from hydropower projects during current drought is entirely due to lack of water and there is no information that will suggest any other possibility. Navalawala has not provided any information to the contrary, we would welcome him to provide it if he has it.

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