Monday, 6 April 2020

Hydro-Power Answer To Problem Of Energy Insecurity In India

Updated: October 16, 2010 5:34 pm

The decision of the Government of India to stop work on the 600 MW Loharinag Pala hydro-electric power project on the Bhagirathi under pressure from religious leaders and so-called environmentalists is a retrograde step, which was not expected from a government which is secular in character .More so when the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) has already spent Rs 650 crore on the project and orders for supply of equipment worth Rs 2000 crore.

                What astonishes one is the fact that Mr GD Agrawal, a former professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, has been able to arm-twist the Government of India by undertaking a fast at Haridwar demanding of the Government of India to scrap the Loharinag Pala hydel project. It is to be noted that he had undertaken a similar fast last year at Uttarakashi but had to beat a hasty retreat from there because the local people had gone against him for seeking to cause what was interpreted as unemployment among them after the work was suspended. But now he has succeeded in his “mission” to “save the Ganga”. He must have been delighted at the Uttarakhand Chief Minister Nishank and the Union Minister of State for Environment Jairam Ramesh serving him fruit juice on the eve of his breaking the fast.

                A Group of Ministers headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had earlier rejected the demand for scrapping of the project. However, when the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had requested the Group to reconsider the matter, there was no option but to agree to the scrapping of the project.

                Have people like Prof Agrawal, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh and other ardent “environmentalists” realised that giving up sites for hydro-electric power stations in the name of religion will severely affect efforts to build hydro-power stations anywhere in the country? The 1980 the “struggle” of environmentalists was successful in getting the Silent Valle hydro-electric project in Kerala being given up. However that “success” need not be a precedent for all hydel projects in India being given up under pressure from “environmentalists”.

                Can Prof Agarwal compensate for the potential loss in generation of electricity, particularly hydro-electricity, by any other power plant in the country? He obviously cannot because hydel plants can be built only on the hills, which provide sufficient “heads” (heights) for falling water that can rotate turbines and permanent magnets which produce electricity.

                There is another aspect of hydro-electricity which has to be taken into account in this connection. Hydro-electricity is essential for supply in “peak” hours during mostly the evening hours, the demand for electricity rises considerably. At that time, hydro-electricity sources can be switched on in order to augment power supply. This demand reduces around midnight when less power is required. Supply therefore has to be reduced at that time. If the augmented supply is from hydro-power sources, switching-off is very easy. Just stop the flow of water from the reservoir to the turbines. However, if only thermal power is the sources, power supply may be cut off but the production of steam cannot be stopped because coal will continue to burn and steam will continue to be produced. All that will happen is that the energy from burning coal will go waste

                It might sound bizarre and even somewhat crazy, but that is what a prominent hydro-power engineer Dr BSK Naidu had claimed in a publication Planning and Management of Hydropower Resources of India in 1982.The volume was published by the Central Board of Irrigation and Power (CBIP), Malcha Marg, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi-110021.

                Dr Naidu, who at that time was the chief engineer, planning, of the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) had stated than that ‘Hydro-potential is so large that the World’s electricity needs today could be met entirely by hydro-power’.

                This would imply that the world need not burn coal to produce electricity and depend upon the scarce and hazardous (but not necessarily unsafe) nuclear resource for meeting the energy needs of the world. Hydro-power alone can meet these needs and the world can, if the available hydro-potential is utilised or allowed to be used by interested groups, safely demolish all thermal and nuclear power plants and depend solely on hydro-power. Of course as a measure of precaution, a few thermal or nuclear power plants may be kept running in order to meet emergencies, but the world can and should think in terms of doing away with thermal and nuclear energy plants.

                Only recently, Nobel Prize winner Al Gore has pleaded that power be produced only from non-polluting sources. He did not mention water but that is the material which can resolve the entire world’s energy needs and thus rid the earth of polluting sources of power.

                Come to think of it, supposing at dinner you accidentally spill a glass of water on the table. If there is arrangement for this water to drain out from just one outlet, fact is that the falling water can generate electricity, howsoever meager the volume so produced may be. There is no other material which can duplicate this feat. Water falling from a height can turn turbines which can rotate generators that produces electricity. This electricity can be stored unlike other sources of power. The storage is in the form of what is known as “potential energy” of stagnant water stored in reservoirs or rivers which, if made to fall from a height on turbines, can and does produce electricity.

                Using the statistics which are 26 years old but not updated by this writer in order not to distort the logic behind the claim by Dr Naidu, we will discuss in the following paragraphs the potential of hydro-power in India and the world.

                Dr Naidu estimated the hydro-power potential of the world at 9800 billion units (bu) (World Energy Conference, 1989) and of India at 84044 megawatts (MW) at 60 per cent load factor. The world scenario shows the “techno-economically feasible potential”. Of them, in 1982, a total of 1069 bu were under planning, 534 were under construction, and 1750 were under operation (Three Gorges Dam in China along with other projects in South America would raise these figures considerably).

                At that point of time, there were 16 countries which depended totally on hydro-power or partially. The names of the countries with the percentage of demands met by hydro-power are given here: Norway (99.4); Zambia (98.9); Zaire ( 98.6); Ghana (98.5); Mozambique(97.1); Brazil (92.7); Zimbabwe (88.9); Sri Lanka (88.6); New Zealand (74.1); Nepal (73.6); Switzerland (69.7); Austria (69.3); Canada (68,4); Colombia (68.4); North Korea (64.3) and Sweden (64.1).

                In addition, many countries in the world have potential for producing hydro-power from tidal power. The total installed capacity of this power in the world is 119,426 MW, with India having only 900 MW potential from Kachcha area.

                Here is another source of hydro-power too. It is called the Pump-storage capacity. In India this potential is planned to be exploited at two places. The first is proposed at the Tehri Project with a capacity of 1000 MW. A similar project is under construction at the Ajudhia Power Project in the Purulia district of West Bengal. Some other pump storage plants are already under operation. This system pumps back water already used for producing electricity and re-use the water for producing power.

                For want of space we cannot provide other advantages of hydro-power the cleanest and the safest source of power which is inexhaustible unlike coal and uranium.

                Dr Naidu says: “Massive gravitating influx of surface water unleashed by the hydrological cycle has enormous potential for energy generation, particularly in a monsoon-blessed country like ours whose hydro potential is more than that of the oil potential of Arab countries.”

By Arabinda Ghose

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