Hydropower Generation and Climate Change

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    Based on observations and climate projections, the Team from IIT Gandhinagar studied the hydroclimatic changes in the catchment areas and their implications for hydropower generation in 46 major dams located in the north, central, and south India.

    Major Highlights of a recent study 

    • A warmer and wetter climate is projected to bring about 5%-33% increased rainfall. As a result, hydropower production is very likely to increase by 9%-36% for most dams and this will come from increased inflow (7-70%) into the dams.
    • Both north and central India are projected to receive a higher increase in precipitation than south India.
      •  The increased precipitation will alter the inflow to the dams more in north and central India than in south India and also hydropower generation
    • Due to global warming, there will be a simultaneous rise in extreme inflow and high reservoir storage conditions for most dams. 
    • This translates into a higher generation of hydroelectric power, which is good; but on the flip side, it poses challenges to reservoir management and the likelihood of dam breaks.

    About Hydropower

    • Hydropower or hydroelectric power is a renewable source of energy that generates power by using a dam or diversion structure to alter the natural flow of a river or other body of water.
    • Hydropower is often considered green energy because it generates electricity from the natural flow of water without releasing any emissions or pollutants.
    •  It also does not rely on fossil fuels.

    Potential 

    • The Himalayas are a major water source for much of South Asia. 
    • Most countries in the region, including India, China, Nepal, Bhutan, and Pakistan, have built or are planning to build hydropower projects in the Himalayas. 
    • In India, the government has identified hydropower as a key renewable energy source. 
      • Many hydropower projects are under construction or in the planning stages in the Indian Himalayas, including the Subansiri Lower Hydroelectric Project in Arunachal Pradesh and the Teesta Low Dam Hydroelectric Project in Sikkim.
    • Based on selected hydroelectric dams, the projected increase in hydropower potential in India is 10-23%. 

    Challenges and Concerns 

    • The building and maintenance of large hydroelectric dams can also have a significant environmental impact.
    • The construction of dams can disrupt the flow of rivers, leading to changes in water temperature and chemistry. 
    • It can also cause erosion, landslides, and sedimentation which can have a negative impact on the local environment. 
    • Dams also disrupt the migration patterns of fish and other aquatic species and impact the local wildlife, particularly if the dam’s construction leads to habitat loss. 
    • Large-scale hydroelectric dams displace local communities, affecting their livelihoods and cultural heritage and impacting the overall well-being of the local population.
    • Climate change has driven erratic weather patterns like increased snowfall and rainfall. 
      • These changing phenomena made infrastructure projects in the Himalayan regions risky.

    Other Options: 

    • Micro hydro is a small-scale hydroelectric power generation system that typically generates up to 100 kilowatts (kW) of electricity.
    •  These systems use the energy of falling water to turn a turbine, which, in turn, generates electricity. 
    • They can be used for various applications, including powering homes, businesses, and small communities
    • Micro hydro systems are typically less expensive to build and maintain than large hydroelectric dams and have a smaller environmental footprint. 
    • They can be located even in inaccessible areas where it is difficult to transmit electricity from larger power stations, and they can provide a reliable source of energy to communities that are not connected to the grid
    • Micro hydro systems can be tailored to minimise the ecosystem’s negative impact and provide sustainable energy solutions.
      • However, it’s important to note that even micro-hydropower projects can have some impact on the environment and local communities. 

    Conclusion and Suggestion 

    • The good news is that global warming can lead to more hydropower generation in India, but the bad news is the potential impact on dam health.
    • The government must consider changes occurring due to climate change while planning new hydropower projects.
    • Reservoir operations should be strengthened through reliable weather and inflow forecasts to maintain storage that can accommodate high inflow due to extreme rainfall.
    • India may have to change reservoir rule curves on how much storage should be permitted at different times during the monsoon season to prevent flood-like situations from the sudden release of water from reservoirs.
    • A detailed assessment should be carried out to evaluate the potential impact before proceeding with the project.

    Do you Know?

    • India stands 4th globally in Renewable Energy Installed Capacity (including Large Hydro), 4th in Wind Power capacity & 4th in Solar Power capacity (as per REN21 Renewables 2022 Global Status Report).
    • India ranked among the top five in the Global Climate Change Performance Index and has reached the 2030 target of ensuring 40% installed capacity in non-fossil sources by 2021. 
    • The current capacity of non-fossil sources is 42%

    Source: TH