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Govt of India plans hydro plants consuming 'more electrical energy' than can generate

By Shankar Sharma* 

The news item “NHPC In Talks With States For ₹62.4k Cr Storage Plants Push” on the proposal of National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) to set up about 20,800 MW of pumped storage power plants (PSPs), which are basically hydro power plants, should be viewed with a lot of concern.
The primary objective of a PSP is to "... is to store cheap green power during off-peak hours by raising water to a height and then releasing it into a lower reservoir to generate electricity when demand increases."
This mean construction of two reservoirs one at the height and one at the bottom. Unless there are already one of two reservoirs at the proposed sites, these PSPs mean drowning/destruction of a lot of vegetation and/or forest lands.
At a time when the forest and tree cover in the country is below 25% as against the national forest policy of 33% of the total land area, these projects can only exacerbate the climate change related issues to our communities.
Even in cases where two nearby existing reservoirs can be used for such a PSP (as in the case of a proposal to construct 2,000 MW capacity PSP in Sharavathy valley LTM sanctuary in Karnataka wherein about 350 hectares of thick natural forests will have to be submerged/ destroyed) considerable amount of forest/vegetation may have to be lost for civil construction works alone.
Our country, as well as the planet, cannot afford to lose so much of thick, natural, tropical forest from the perspective of climate change alone.
Such PSPs consume more electrical energy (about 25%; in pumping water from the lower reservoir to the higher reservoir) than they can generate. Since, the country has also been facing annual electrical energy shortages, the techno-economic attractiveness of these PSPs and their true relevance to India needs to be challenged.
It should also be emphasised that these PSPs are not essential for the satisfactory operation of our power grid, since there are other suitable options which are vastly benign, such as energy storage batteries and suitable modifications to the operational regime of demand side management.
It is hugely unfortunate that Central are focusing only to expand their business empires, instead of contributing to the overall welfare of our people
In case the role of these PSPs can be proved beyond reasonable doubt as essential for our energy sector, a good number of existing hydel power plants can be considered to be transformed to PSPs with relatively less financial investments.
In most such cases only one additional (and much smaller) reservoir may need to be built at the tail end of such hydel power plants, and hence the land submergence and the total cost to the society can be much less. It may also techno-economically much more attractive to run many of the existing smaller hydel power plants only as peak power plants.
All such issues need to be diligently studied from the national perspective as well as case by case to determine the least cost option for the society; whereas this concept of "least cost option to the larger society" can be stated as an entirely new concept in our country, wherein only a myopic approach to such projects has been the practice.
It is hugely unfortunate if even the Central PSUs, such as NHPC and National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), are focusing only to expand their business empires, instead of diligently considering as to how they can contribute to the overall welfare of our people through due diligence of every technology/ process before adopting.
Since the large corporate houses such as NHPC and many state governments are likely to plan/ propose more and more of such PSPs, which are also associated with enormous societal level costs, in the name of facilitating the integration of much higher percentage of RE capacity into the national grid, it is in the long term interest of our country that civil society and the concerned individuals should consider working together to persuade the Union government to diligently consider pros/ cons of not only these PSPs, but the very need for more of dam based hydro projects.
*Power & Climate Policy Analyst


Aakarsh said…
It never fails to amuse me that some journalists can be so dumb.


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