Small Hydro Power Plants: The Golden Boys of Ladakh

By Konchok Ishey Leh, Mar 03, 2016
Leh :
Small hydropower is a proven and mature technology. It’s predictable, high conversion efficiency and cost competitive renewable energy source. It requires relatively high initial investment but has the advantage of very low operation costs and long lifespan. Another beautiful advantage is about its gentleness when it comes to its operation it has a property of quick start and stops and can respond to the change in load faster especially at the time of load shedding and brownouts unlike thermal plant which is very slow and sluggish that’s why I take metaphor “Golden Boys”. 
Life cycle analysis of small hydropower shows as cleanest electricity technology with low carbon footprint as today global protocols becoming stringent on environment and climate change and as a developing country we are very sensitive on carbon space. From early 1980’s number of such projects started commissioned in both the districts of Ladakh region out of which very few are under operation at present that too under part load and poor condition like Stakna, Sumur, Iqbal etc.
The failure of most of these projects has many reasons and it’s necessary to understand these reasons to consolidate the present pace of development in the region through reaching inference among local bodies, engineers and consultancy agencies to investigate and develop ways to nullifying those factors causing project failure. 
They should make strong voice in redeveloping and renovating those projects under MNRE programs, and state government initiatives like signing MoU with reputed R&D institutes to redress technical challenges through technology transfer and bring structural change in policy framework. 
The hydropower challenges in Ladakh region can be analysed one by one. Firstly the hydrological challenges in which lack of correct /long time hydrological data at the project site have caused underestimation or overestimation of designed discharge as a result installation of undersize or oversize install capacity leading to power plant failure. A reliable hydrological database of every hydro rich catchment and accurate system of weather forecasting should be developed in Ladakh region. 
Secondly technological challenges like improving the quality of planning and investigation, reducing constructional delays, reducing the problems in transportation of bulky and heavy equipment to remote project site through narrow routes and remote monitoring of these plants are real constraints in small hydropower development. 
Thirdly economic challenges like high manpower, material, machinery, and transportation cost due to difficult terrain, nature of slope, lack of infrastructural facilities and arrangement of loans from banks since development of hydropower is considered risky affair.
Fourth is the administrative challenge like long delays in granting different clearances such as the ministry of environment and forest clearance, army clearance, land acquisition, techno-economic clearances etc. 
Keeping in view Indus water treaty with neighbouring Pakistan small hydropower is politically most acceptable solution for meeting energy security in the region because run off river scheme is generally employed preferably due to suitability of site in hilly regions like Ladakh. In this scheme, there is little poundage or no poundage in the upper stream reservoir because technically less discharge is required to produce sufficient power because of easy availability of natural falls. 
The output power evacuation is subject to the instantaneous natural flow of stream unlike large hydro which requires excessive water storage and can violate the treaty as a result project can be treated disputed like Baglihar on Chenab River. Stirring the truth “power sector is the backbone of states economy” state of Jammu & Kashmir was never on footsteps of sorting out this basic concept of economic reform. 
That’s why it is essentially required to strengthen and prioritise power sector in our state. We have huge untapped hydropower potential in the region including large hydro but when it comes to harness it to consolidate the power sector in the region efforts seems bleak. 
It’s not harnessing at the desired pace due to lack of well framed policies in the state government and perhaps the potential is underplayed. But states like Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh are 1st in solar power and hydropower generation respectively. Unlike our state of Jammu & Kashmir, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh are doing exceptionally good in these sectors because not only they have potential but mainly because policy making is thrust area into these states. 
The friendly and acceptable policies in power sector encompassing society, investors, developers, stakeholders and environment etc. becomes key in harnessing the golden harvest today specially after new land acquisition act 2013 with effect from January 2014! The result of these two states can surely be replicated in the rest of the country especially the reluctant hydro rich state of Jammu and Kashmir. Since private sector participation becomes more pronounced in recent years in Indian power sector designing of investment friendly and public inclined policies becomes a necessary condition. 
The resilient people residing in structurally disadvantaged areas of Leh and Kargil have been living with almost no access or little access to electrical energy for ages. It is at most responsibility of the government (state and central) to take mature and visionary step to understand these people and their problems by creating an atmosphere to bring various trade-offs on the table of discussion and give a spotlight making trade-offs explicit to arrest aforementioned challenges facing today.
The writer is a Senior Project Fellow at CSIR-NISTADS in New Delhi