Led by the ongoing global energy crisis, nations across the globe are redoubling their efforts to reduce their dependence on exhaustible and costly fossil fuels and ensure a faster transition to green energy. The geographically diverse South Asian region is rich in a variety of renewable energy sources including small hydro. Small hydro projects offer many benefits when compared to large hydro projects in terms of lower capex costs, smaller gestation periods and less environment concerns. However, small hydro projects suffer from financing issues and waning interest from developers especially due to the more attractive solar power. Thus, small hydro installations have gained traction in very few countries in South Asia. The following article provides a wrap up on the key developments across the different South Asian countries in the small hydro space.
The potential for hydro power is largely untapped in Afghanistan. As per IRENA, the total installed capacity of hydro power projects in Afghanistan was 340 MW in 2021.The government has implemented several initiatives to promote the development of small hydroelectric plants. It has also developed a policy and regulatory framework to encourage private sector investment in the sector. However, the sector faces several challenges, including limited access to finance, inadequate infrastructure, and security concerns. Despite these challenges, the government of Afghanistan is committed to developing the country’s small hydro power potential. It is currently working with development partners and private sector companies to develop a number of hydropower projects.
Bangladesh is a water-rich country, with its rivers and streams providing a significant potential for small hydro power development. Despite Bangladesh’s abundance of rivers, hydropower production is not at par due to the absence of high head and high flow rate. As per IRENA, the total installed capacity of hydro power projects in Bangladesh was 230 MW in 2021. In recent years, the government of Bangladesh has taken a number of measures to encourage the development of small hydro sector. These include the setting up of the Bangladesh Small Hydropower Development Board in 2015 to promote and coordinate the development of small hydro projects. Bangladesh’s first small-scale micro-hydropower plant with a capacity of 10 kW was constructed to meet the energy needs of 140 households and a temple in Bandarban. The government also established a 50 kW micro-hydropower plant in Barkal Upazila, Rangamati.
Bhutan is a small landlocked country in the Himalayas, and its energy needs are largely met by hydropower. In recent years, the government of Bhutan has been investing in small hydro projects to meet the country’s electricity needs. The country has an estimated potential capacity of 30,000 MW of hydroelectric energy, of which 23,760 MW has been identified as economically feasible. The majority of the hydroelectric power capacity is in the form of small hydropower plants with a capacity ranging from 1 MW to 30 MW.
Bhutan has implemented a number of initiatives to promote the development of small hydropower plants in the country. These include providing financial and technical assistance to private investors and communities interested in developing small hydro projects. Case in point, in February 2022, the Druk Green Power Corporation announced the construction of three small hydropower projects, one each at Lhuentse, Zhemgang and Haa, with a total generation capacity of 104 MW. The implementation of the projects would occur in a phased manner.
Small hydro power is a renewable energy resource that has been used in India for many years. It is a cost effective and reliable way of generating electricity in rural and remote areas. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has been promoting the development of small hydro power projects since the early 1980s. As of December 2022, the total installed capacity of small hydro power projects in India is 4,925 MW. As per MNRE, the estimated potential of small hydro power is 20 GW across the country. In India, the state of Karnataka presently holds the top spot for utilising small hydro projects, with a total installed capacity of 1280.73 MW.
The Indian government has been encouraging the development of small hydro power plants in the country as part of its renewable energy policy. In November 2022, the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission notified generic tariffs in the range of Rs 4.76-5.84 per kWh for various small hydro projects across states for the financial year 2022-23. In January 2023, a 22.5 MW Ganol Hydro Power Project was inaugurated near Tura in West Garo Hills. In December 2022, the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited floated an EPC tender for a 10 MW small hydro project in Lodhama, Darjeeling.
According to the International Finance Corporation, Nepal is the world’s second richest country in terms of inland water resources. Such abundance of rivers, rivulets and tributaries can help the country in harnessing the hydroelectric power not only for domestic use but also for trade. The National Bureau of Asian Research estimated the hydropower potential in Nepal to be 83,000 MW. According to the Renewable Energy Subsidy Policy for 2016, an off-grid pico hydro is eligible for subsidies. Off-grid power projects can be categorised into three sections based on geographical remoteness. A pico hydro project with a capacity less than 5 kW is eligible for a subsidy of up to Rs. 185,000 per kW based on the degree of remoteness, whereas projects with a capacity of 5 kW to 10 kW are eligible for a subsidy of up to Rs 210,000 per kW. In 2021, a small hydro power plant was inaugurated at the Chandannath Municipality in Nepal’s Jumla district. The plant was built with Indian financial assistance of Nepali Rs 26.39 million. The grant from the Indian government was used for the construction of a reservoir tank and the rehabilitation of a small hydropower plant. The power plant would aid about 20,000 residents of Chandannath Municipality in Jumla District.
According to the Pakistan’s Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), the country has a hydropower potential of 60,000 MW. The small hydro potential of Pakistan is estimated to be more than 10,000 MW. However, more than 90 per cent potential is still untapped. In 2020, five small hydro power projects were commissioned in the country. The projects include the 500 kw Baila Manoor, 400 kw Biyari Manoor, 300 kw Kotkay Manoor, 300 kw Rajwal, and 150 kw Dum Duma mini hydro power project. The projects will provide an uninterrupted supply of low-cost electricity to approximately 2,000 households, 12 mosques, 10 schools, 120 shops, and a number of tourist facilities in the areas. In the northern regions of the province, the provincial government also started a project to build 328 mini hydro power stations with a total production capacity of 34 MW through non-governmental organisations. The majority of those projects are now commissioned, and the remaining ones are in the final stages. It was reported that out of 328 mini power stations, 17 were to be set up in Mansehra district, with 12 power stations completed and the rest to be completed in the near future.
The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), the Srilankan state-owned utility runs the majority of the country’s hydropower stations. CEB is planning to schedule new investments in its Long Term Generation Expansion Plan between 2018 and 2037. The country plans to add 842 MW of major hydro and 215 MW of mini hydro during this expansion plan. In 2020, the energy generated using hydro and marine sources out of the total energy mix of the country was 31 per cent. As reported by the CEB, there are a total of 181 mini hydro projects successfully commissioned in the country that has a total capacity of 353.74 MW.
The South Asian region has a vast untapped source of affordable renewable energy, in the form of small hydro. However, barring a few nations, development is quite limited in the sector. Going forward, small hydro power projects can help provide energy access in many remote locations in the region, and help these South Asian nations in decarbonising their energy mix in a sustainable manner.