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Dr H R Sharma, Chief Technical Principal, Tractebel Engineering Pvt Ltd

25 Apr 2012

Hydropower in India is no doubt one of the best solutions for meeting India's energy needs given that it has the ability to meet peak power load deficit. The most vocal proponent of clean and renewable energy, i.e. hydro, is Dr H R Sharma, Chief Technical Principal, Tractebel Engineering Pvt Ltd, who has been in hydro sector for last 55 years.

In a conversation with Infraline Energy's Sangeeta Tanwar he expresses his personal views about fast tracking hydro development in the country, among others, by expediting various clearance processes. He identifies greater accessibility and enhanced infrastructure as the key to speedier development of hydro in India.

Edited excerpts.

What is the role of hydro in India's energy mix?

Energy undoubtedly is vital for agricultural, industrial and overall development of the country. Moreover, the per capita consumption of electricity is reckoned as a measure of overall development and the living standard of a country.

Some of the European countries enjoy as high as 10,000 kWh per annum/per capita consumption. In US it's about 14,000 kWh. Norway, which is 100 percent hydro, boasts of per capita consumption of more than 25,000 kWh. In China they are consuming about 1800 kWh. But in India annual per capita consumption of electricity stands low at mere 740 kWh. Given our ambitious growth plan we have a long way to go.

India accounts for 17 percent of the world population and less than 1 percent of global oil and gas resources. This means that we will also have to develop sufficient renewable sources to satisfy our ever growing energy needs. And in renewable energy sources hydro is the most competitive source of energy. There are other renewable sources of energy like wind and solar but the continuity of electricity generation from these sources cannot be predicted, has to be used as it occurs or can be utilized in pumping water from lower basin to upper basin for pumped storage schemes. Moreover, in the present scenario their contribution is very small in comparison to the demand.

"The estimated pumped storage capacity of the country is 94,000 MW. And the present Pumped storage installed capacity is about 4700 MW. Pumped storage schemes are a very good means of storing energy, especially from renewable sources like solar, wind, tidal."

In fact, tidal power is another prospective source of clean energy which has not been taken up as yet. Tidal power is more reliable as its can be predicted from minute to minute well in advance. In India tidal energy has a potential estimated at about 10,000 MW, mainly on the western coast of Gujarat.

Given our limited resources of fossil fuels, our aim should be to develop more and more renewable energy and, looking very far ahead, by the turn of this century we should aim to meet our 100 percent energy demand through renewable energy. In this regard hydro can make a significant contribution. Energy from hydro is renewable, pollution free, has no cost escalation. And we have the complete technical know-how for hydro development .We can boast to be the second to none in the world when it comes to developing hydro.

The target for hydropower as part of the XII Five Year Plan has been set at 31,000 MW. Since the current installed capacity in hydro is 39,000 MW - one is looking at nearly doubling it over next five years. How achievable is this target?

Our target of adding another 31,000 MW in next 5 years is very ambitious. It is challenging, but not impossible. Currently nearly 15,000 MW hydro projects are under construction. We should strive to achieve the target by deploying adequate resources, qualified personnel, sufficient funds and expediting statutory clearances. Qualified and experienced Consultants such as Tractebel Engineering could help to optimize the solutions and to achieve the targets.

What is the potential that pumped storage offers in India? Can it provide a bankable solution for Grid security in lieu of RE Sources of generation like wind and solar power? As a company what are the initiatives, if any, being taken by you to encourage the concept of pumped storage?

The estimated pumped storage capacity of the country is 94,000 MW. And the present Pumped storage installed capacity is about 4700 MW. Pumped storage schemes are a very good means of storing energy, especially from renewable sources like solar, wind, tidal etc.

In Pump storage schemes the energy can be stored as and when generated by pumping water from the lower basin to upper basin. Pumped storage schemes convert low value off- peak energy into high value peak- energy. Pumped storage schemes have the ability to optimize the power system to a large extent.

"Topo- sheets for the region to be surveyed are not available. Access to these crucial sources of data is restricted for developers citing strategic security reasons."

Recently Pumped storage schemes have seen lot of technological advancements and innovations. Instead of constructing two basins we can now use sea as a lower basin. Techniques have been developed to design reversible & multiple speed turbines and other equipment with special coatings that are corrosion resistance even in saline water.

Gujarat's western coast offers excellent opportunity to use sea as a lower basin. Pumped storage in India has a bright future. Tractebel Engineering has provided optimum solutions for pumped storage plants world over.

What are the major pumped storage projects being handled by Tractebel Engineering?

Tractebel Engineering is already involved in one of the biggest pumped storage scheme in India, namely Tehri pumped storage scheme, as Owner's Engineer to THDC. At Tehri dam we have total plant capacity of 2,000 MW out of which 1000 MW is conventional and another 1,000 MW is pumped storage. There is the downstream Koteshwar hydro project with a capacity of 400 MW. The Koteshwar reservoir serves as the lower basin for the Tehri pumped storage plant. We also have pumped storage projects commissioned in other countries such as COO TROIS PONTS PSP in Belgium besides other projects.

What are the critical factors for conducting feasibility study for LHP and SHP projects?

Accessibility and infrastructure are two major challenges that one faces while undertaking feasibility studies for hydro projects. Accessibility to project sites is a major issue. I myself have tracked 27 km on a single day. In absence of roads transporting instruments, machinery, material etc. is a major challenge. This not only delays the investigations but also affects the quality of investigations.

Then topo- sheets for the region to be surveyed are not available. Access to these crucial sources of data is restricted for developers citing strategic security reasons. These are supplied to state governments by Survey of India but again access to these documents is limited. Hydrological and meteorological data are normally maintained by Central Water Commission access to which is again limited. Here the whole Ganga basin data is restricted due to defense and strategic reasons.

Paucity and at times near absence of hydrology data, especially for far flung areas also makes our work difficult. Basic data facilities including rain gauges and stream gauging stations are very poor and inadequate in the country. I have spent more than a decade working in Mauritius which is a small country with an area of 1865 sq km. They have more than 100 rain gauge stations with 60 stream gauging stations equipped with automatic water level recorders recoding data round the clock. They have hydrology data and statistics for last 100 years.

Here in India we end up spending a year or two merely in collecting data. Geological and geotechnical investigations and data collection have to be carried out by the developer himself which takes considerable time. To expedite hydro projects you need to expedite these processes. The available topographical, hydrological and meteorological data should be supplied to the developers by state authorities immediately while allotting the projects.

What are the issues related to environmental hazards and large-scale displacement of people while developing hydropower?

Even before identifying project due care is taken to ensure that it is environment friendly. Further, right from the inception of a project and while undertaking site surveys and investigations due care is taken to ensure that project does not involve large scale displacement of men and material. In some cases not even one family is displaced...

We stay clear of forest land and thickly populated areas while undertaking a hydro project.

Over the years Government of India has evolved a very strong and comprehensive resettlement and rehabilitation policy for those displaced by the project. The policy has adequate measures and sops to take care that the interests of those affected by construction of dam and other related structures are well protected. Those displaced by the project are resettled at other sites and are offered monetary compensation to make-up for losses suffered by them. People are assured of higher living standard by providing them access to better education, improved water and sanitation facilities, and enhanced healthcare and recreation facilities. Resettlement and rehabilitation coupled with CSR activities result in better living standard for those affected by big hydro projects.

In fact, developers of hydro power make due provision in their project cost for offering a better living standard to those displaced.

"...some states have created a separate body with one of the financial institution like IL&FS which collects topographical, hydrological and even geological data for the identified potential hydro projects and assists in all the clearances including land acquisition."

One percent free power is provided for Local Area Development Fund (LADF) with a matching contribution by the host state government. Further, hundred units of electricity per month for ten years from the date of commissioning of the project to each project affected family is provided free of cost. Besides, members of the displaced family are also offered a job.

A well balanced resettlement and rehabilitation policy led by government coupled by community development initiatives by developers has minimised risks arising out of displacement of people owing to hydro projects.

How many years does it take to complete a DPR for a client and get the project on track?

A DPR takes one- and- half to two years to be completed including investigations. Engaging a good consultant is a must in this regard. But after preparation of DPR there are statutory clearances that need to be obtained from authorities such as CEA, CWC, GSI, Ministry of Power, Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Environment and Forests etc. These clearances on an average take another one to two years.

Thus from the inception to get the project on track it takes about three to four years.

Now if someone is planning to develop a hydro project of say 330 MW, even one day of delay will result in a revenue loss of more than Rs 1 Crore per day for the developer besides increased IDC etc.

What procedural changes can be affected to expedite clearances for hydro projects?

Well some preliminary environmental study should be carried out by the State before allotting a hydro project. Before allotting a project to a developer the state should see viability of the project from environmental point of view. Secondly, state authorities should ensure basic infrastructure and accessibility in place before allotting a hydro project site. The cost for this can be recovered by State Governments proportionately from Independent Power Producers while allotting the projects. The state authorities should facilitate and assist in land acquisition for developers.

In fact some states have created a separate body with one of the financial institution like IL&FS which collects topographical, hydrological and even geological data for the identified potential hydro projects and assists in all the clearances including land acquisition. It has been done in Uttarakhand and Assam. This model needs to be replicated in other states also to fast track hydro development.

How are business opportunities in hydro shaping up?

Hydro in India is coming-up in a big way. Besides State Authorities, Government of India Undertakings like NHPC, SJVNL, THDC, NTPC, NEEPCO we are now witnessing increasing participation of private players who have a significant role in hydro development because they have the funds to invest in the sector.

The sector has some of the big private players such as RELIANCE, JINDAL, JAYPEE, GMR, GVK, Moser Baer, Gammon, Tata Power, L&T and Athena which harbor good news for hydro in the country.

(InfralineEnergy thanks Dr H R Sharma, Chief Technical Principal, Tractebel Engineering Pvt Ltd 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.)