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Our hydro projects are well equipped to deal with monsoon uncertainties, A B Agrawal, Chairman, Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB)

29 Nov 2012

Set up over 50 years ago to take care of the Bhakra and Beas dams, the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) has been successfully renovating, modernising and uprating its plants over the years. Today, it commands a 50 per cent share of the country’s hydro power capacity. In a free-wheeling chat with Infraline Plus, its Chairman since March 2010, A.B. Agrawal talks about how hydro sector will play an important role in India’s growth. Excerpts:  

How can hydro sector contribute to addressing the growing power demand? How much have we been able to harness the available hydro power potential in the country?

Despite all our efforts, so far we have been able to harness only 39,291 mw hydro power whereas we have a potential of about 1,48,000 mw. At the end of 11th Plan, there was energy shortage of 10.2 per cent in the country and peaking power shortage of 11.1 per cent. If the entire hydro potential is harnessed, it would contribute significantly towards taking care of the peaking power demand, being the ideal peaking power source. With environmental sensitivities getting sharper by the day, very low carbon footprint of hydro power is an added advantage.

What is the current share of hydro sector in the total energy basket? Do you expect any improvement by the end of current Five Year Plan?

We have a total installed power generation capacity of 2,06,456 mw out of which hydro power has a 19 per cent share at 39,291 mw. However, many a time, such comparison may not give the correct picture due to comparatively low plant load factor of hydro power plants. For example, in spite of 19 per cent share in installed generation capacity, only 130.4 billion units of hydro energy was generated during 2011-12 out of a total generation of 876.4 billion units, which means a share of only 14.9 per cent.

Nevertheless, there was one encouraging factor -- growth in hydro power generation was 14.15 per cent while the overall power generation growth was only 8.05 per cent. By the end of 12th Plan, i.e. by March 2017, installed capacity in hydro power of about 48,500 mw is envisaged out of total 2,70,000 mw i.e. a share of about 18 per cent.

What are the advantages of installing small hydro projects over larger hydro projects?

Though small hydro projects do not appear glamorous in today’s age of mega plans and mega numbers, their benefits are enormous. The three most important components of setting up hydro power plants, i.e. water rights, resettlement & rehabilitation and environment get easily taken care of in the case of small hydro plants. Moreover, such plants can be an important component of “decentralised distributed generation” model as they can work as standalone power stations to cater to local needs without any grid connectivity. Their gestation period is shorter due to which their benefits can be better appreciated, especially in remote places with no grid power. In such cases, consumers may also get electricity at cheaper rates.

Are present day hydro power stations well-equipped to sustain weather fluctuations like uncertain monsoons and global warming? Since weather uncertainties do impact water levels in the river, is it prudent to invest in capacity expansion of hydro projects?

Of late, there has been a growing hype about weather fluctuations, truant monsoons, abnormal glacial receding and melting ascribed to rising carbon footprint and global warming. But monsoon uncertainty is not a new phenomenon. Present day hydro power stations have been designed to factor in such uncertainties after exhaustive studies during preparation and Detailed Project Reports. Upheaval from present monsoon trends, if any, can only occur gradually and would take generations to manifest itself. BBMB witnessed a severe monsoon fluctuation in 1988 when in the last days of September there were heavy rains which caused massive inundation as by that time all dams were full with no capacity to accommodate such floods. Since then, we have not seen such violent fluctuation. But, the storage type hydro power projects are very well equipped to deal with such uncertainties as in the case of BBMB, Narmada Hydro Development Corporation (NHDC) and Tehri Hydro Development Corporation (THDC).

Which are the units undergoing renovation and modernisation and what is the estimated cost and benefit analysis?

BBMB is a pioneer organization of hydro sector in renovation, modernization and uprating (R,M&U). At present, five units of 108 mw each at our Bhakra Left Bank Power House located in Himachal Pradesh are under R,M&U for the second time. In the first round, they were uprated from 90 mw to 108 mw.

The estimated cost of the present R,M&U is roughly `490 crore excluding IDC. With this round of renovation, not only will the generation capacity of each unit be uprated from 108 mw to 126 mw each, but the units will also get a fresh lease of life for coming 25 years. Post R,M&U, about 16 per cent increase in peaking power is envisaged. It is noteworthy that our plant is already about 50 years old and such increase in generation capacity shall be achieved without any incremental environmental or R&R issues.

There were reports that firms that undertake renovation and modernisation operations for old projects quote much higher prices for the job thereby reducing the incentive to go for such modernisation?

The cost of R,M&U project is a function of a number of factors such as age, profile and condition of the plant, technical requirements for change of certain plant components, for example, turbine / generator, transformers, auxiliaries, availability of current technical data, location, exchange rates especially in case of foreign vendor etc. Just as the common sense economics dictates, an R,M&U job perceived to be easier shall attract stiff competition and hence competitive rates and vice versa. However, many a times the rates seem to be exorbitant due to the requirement of replacement of a number of major components/auxiliaries due to wear& tear and more due to enhancement of their ratings. Still, in majority of the cases this is an easier route to maintain/enhance capacity in a short time without any environmental and R&R issues.

Does India have the required technology for renovation and modernisation so as to increase the life of the plant without having to continuously repair it?

Technology for renovation and modernization of hydro power plants may not be widely available in India. Most of the R,M&U work is actually required on very old units. Authenticated engineering data on most of such units is either not available or the original vendors of large number of components are out of business or are not interested. In such cases, R,M&U can proceed only with retrieval of data through reverse engineering which requires high degree of technological exposure and sophistication. Such expertise is available only to a limited extent in India. However, on the positive side, there have been umpteen instances when the vendors have successfully implemented R,M&U of units earlier supplied by them. In our own case, we had a satisfactory experience with BHEL in execution of R,M&U on six units of Pong Power House from 60  mw to 66 mw each.

Can you give us a cost-benefit analysis of renovation and modernisation versus installing greenfield projects?

It is always better to add generation capacity through R,M&U rather than through greenfield projects. For example, in case of the first R,M&U of Bhakra Left Bank Power House, cost per mw was very low as at that time uprating was done just by upgrading the insulation from Class B to Class F after detailed engineering. This current R,M&U cost works out to be about `5 crore per mw whereas a greenfield storage type hydro project entails a cost of `10-12 crore per mw. Also, the per mw cost of greenfield hydro projects depends on a number of factors such as hydrology and plant design, logistics, R&R issues, political uncertainties, geological surprises, financial arrangement etc. But by and large, R,M&U is a very cost effective proposition. It takes less time and the benefits start flowing in significantly shorter span. R,M&U also conserves management energy and hence the cost, as the issues of water rights, R&R, etc. scarcely raise their head.

Do you also face local resistance during the renovation and modernisation process? If yes, then how do you deal with it?

R,M&U is like erecting a modified structure and/or super structure in place of already existing structure, without consuming any additional space or environmental niches. In most such cases, there is scarcely any incremental issue of water rights, R&R or environment. BBMB has been a pioneer in the country in the field of R,M&U of hydro power plants, with the largest capacity addition through uprating. We have not encountered any local resistance against our R,M&U works. In fact, through this route, we have already added a capacity of 311 mw and addition of another 90 mw is underway. Our share so far in the country is more than 50 per cent.

(InfralineEnergy thanks A B Agrawal, Chairman, Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) for sharing his valuable insights with our readers. The column 'In-Conversation', is a platform to engage experts from various sectors to share their views on the different transformations happening in the Indian energy sector.)