India's Hydro Power

Brahmaputra River
The mighty Brahmaputra courses southwest, then south,
connecting Himalayan glaciers to the Andaman Sea.

Editor’s Note: In our recent feature “Technology & Sunlight – India’s Green Future” we calculated that for India to produce half as much energy per capita as members of the European Community, its overall energy production would need to quadruple.

While India has technology and sunlight in abundance, and while these are key ingredients for a green energy future, it is daunting to think solar thermal and solar electric power can increase their share of energy production from today’s negligible percentage to provide all needed growth in energy production within a generation.

While biofuel offers potential, barring pending breakthroughs that facilitate biofuel from sources other than crops, there is a finite boundary to how much biofuel can be grown. And biofuel from crops come at the expense of food and forest, and are themselves major drivers of climate change when cooling and rain-inducing forests give way en-masse to new plantations of thirsty biofuel monocultures.

For this reason we have examined the alternatives to the alternatives; conventional energy options such as fossil fuels (including heavy oil), nuclear power, and hydroelectricity. In our report “China’s Renewable Energy,” it is clear what a nation with a strong central government can accomplish. The Three Gorges hydroelectric complex will have a capacity of 17.5 gigawatts, a staggering amount of energy – the single massive Three Gorges installation will output more than 50% of the entire output of every one of India’s current hydroelectric power stations combined! But in democratic India, projects of such magnitude take time, as they probably should. Not every gorge should be dammed.

Yet India’s compelling need to produce more energy remains. And unlike a nation like the United States, where power is already available in abundance and energy efficiency innovations can address much (some would say all) of their energy challenges, there isn’t as much time in India to debate options. Projects in the United States can take decades to gain approval through the democratic process, but the United States has decades to wait. Unlike the USA which is in a post-industrial phase, India needs more energy now to complete their process of industrialization. India needs more energy now in order for its energy infrastructure to keep pace with its burgeoning and world class scientific and technology community, and to give those communities the raw materials they need to lift India to the higher standard of living their innovations promise.

This is the challenge India faces – to balance democratic dialogue, which require delays and compromise, with the need to fulfill urgent economic imperatives. To lose too much democracy or to forfeit too many innovations in an energy challenged nation are both unacceptable outcomes. There is a balance between traditional technologies for energy conservation and water harvesting and small dams, for example, and mega projects such as interlinking rivers and nuclear power plants and large hydroelectric dams. In finding that balance, not everything will be lost, but not everything will be saved, either. The only way India will find a route into the eventual solar future will be to embrace some of these alternatives to the alternatives, unpleasant though they may be, but to do this in a way that leaves enough wilderness and democracy intact to make the choice worthwhile. It can be done.

- Ed “Redwood” Ring

India’s Hydro Power – Can India Achieve its Potential?
by Avilash Roul, October 17, 2007
Jhkari Hydroelectric Plant in India
The 1,500 megawatt Jhkari Hydroelectric Plant, India’s
largest underground hydro-electric project;
Satluj River, Himachal Pradesh
(Photo: Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd, India)

The Indian economist Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, is eager to provide electricity to every village by 2009, thereby surpassing the official target of “power to all by 2012.”

Over 40 percent of India’s population does not have access to electricity and providing electricity for 24 hours in rural areas is a major challenge. For this the Indian government has envisioned several paths for its energy requirements, from nuclear to renewable. Despite greening its energy requirements, the government has taken various paths from bidding foreign oil well through diplomatic manoeuvring to establishing fossil fuel thermal plants. Meanwhile, hydro-power is one of the energy sources which oscillate between aspiration and achievements. But today there is a strong push for large hydro projects in India. While the pro-hydro lobby is working towards meeting India’s full potential, the anti-hydro-power groups are targeting those projects which they believe are violating environmental and human rights norms. Despite growing number of oppositions to hydro-power, the Indian government is very optimistic to achieve its potential.

By end of August 2007, the total installed capacity in India is 135,402 megawatts (MW), out of which thermal occupies 86,976 MW (64.5 %), hydro 34,131 MW (24.8 %), nuclear 4,120 MW (3.1 %), and renewable 10,175 MW (7.6 %). Out of the total thermal mix, coal produces 71,932 MW (53.4 %), gas produces 13,842 MW (10.2 %) and oil produces a mere 1,202 MW (0.9 %). In comparison with other countries like Canada (17,179 kWh), USA (13,338 kWh), Australia (11,126 kWh), Japan (8,076 kWh), France (7,689 kWh), Germany (7,030 kWh), United Kingdom (6,206 kWh), Russia (5,642 kWh) and Italy (5,644 kWh), India’s per capita electricity consumption is very low at 631 kWh at present. The National Electricity Policy envisages that the per capita availability of electricity will be increased to over 1,000 kWh by 2012. To achieve this, the government is expecting a total capacity addition of about 78,577 MW at the end of 2012 of which 16,553 MW is expected from hydro, 58,644 MW from thermal and 3,380 MW from nuclear. Although India has significant potential for generation of power from non-conventional energy sources (183,000 MW) such as wind, small hydro, biomass and solar energy, the emphasis is still going to thermal energy sources. India has at present a 7.5% overall electrical energy shortage and 11% peaking shortage.

Options for Hydropower

In the 2005 National Electricity Policy the objectives have been set as follows: provision for access to electricity for all households; demand to be met by 2012 with no energy and peaking shortages and adequate reserves to be made available and reliable, and quality power supplies at reasonable rates.

The Indian government considers hydropower as a renewable economic, non-polluting and environmentally benign source of energy. The exploitable hydro-electric potential in terms of installed capacity is estimated to be about 148,700 MW (See Table 1) out of which a capacity of 30,164 MW (20.3%) has been developed so far and 13,616 MW (9.2 %) of capacity is under construction. In addition, 6,782 MW in terms of installed capacity from small, mini and micro hydro schemes have been assessed. Also, 56 sites for pumped storage schemes with an aggregate installed capacity of 94,000 MW have been identified. The government expects to harness its full potential of hydropower by 2027 with a whopping investment of 5,000 billion Rupees.

Chart of India's Hydroelectric Potential by River Basin
India has the potential to nearly triple their hydroelectric output.
Source: India Central Electricity Authority

Stages of Hydro Power Development

In 1887 at Darjeeling, state of West Bengal, the first hydropower station in India was commissioned. At the time of independence, out of total installed capacity of 1,362 MW, hydro-power generation capacity stood at 508 MW. The share of hydropower in the country had a major thrust after Independence, when it rose from 37% at the end of 1947 to its peak share of 51% at the end of 1962/63. While there has been a continuous increase in the installed capacity of hydro power stations in India, today the share of hydro power has been reduced to only 25% of total electric power generation. The government believes the strong public opposition to dams in India is the reason for slower progress.

In India, power is a concurrent subject and the primary responsibility as far as the consumer is concerned vests with the States who have full responsibility for distribution. During 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017), the Government has identified hydro-power benefits of 38,242 MW (See Table 2). During the same period the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Ltd., a government of India enterprise, is targeting to install 5,837 MW of hydropower in India. In the approach paper on power and energy to the 11th Five Year Plan-2007-2012, the government is anticipating in hydro capacity addition of 16,553 MW of which Central Sector will add 9,685 MW, State Sector 3,605 MW and Private Sector 3,263 MW. From 1,061 MW in 1st Five Year Plan (1951-1956), the hydro power has grown to 34,131 MW at the end of 10th Five Year Plan (See Table 3). In fact installed capacity of hydro has increased at a compound growth rate of 4.35% per annum since 1991, higher than all other power sub-sectors.

Hydropower Projects in India
Hydropower projects possible in 12th plan (2012-2017), listed by state, then by river.
Source: India Central Electricity Authority
India's Hydropower Projects During 5-Year Plans
Plan-wise growth of installed capacity of hydropower.
Source: India Central Electricity Authority

The Union Ministry of Power has taken several policy measures to accelerate capacity addition from hydro-electric projects. These include: higher budgetary allocation for the hydro sector; investment approval of new projects; identification of new projects, promoting State Sector projects which were languishing or could not progress due to Inter-State disputes; improving tariff dispensation for hydro projects; simplification of procedure for transfer of clearance; levy of 5% development surcharge to supplement resources for hydro electric projects. While the Power Ministry is responsible for the development of large hydro power projects in India, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has been responsible for small and mini hydro projects up to 3MW station capacity since 1989.

Private Sector Participation:

With the economic liberalisation, the Indian government also opened up the doors in 1991 to private companies for the setting up of private hydropower projects. However, so far only about 910 MW has been commissioned by the help of private players, which constitutes less than 3 percent of the total installed hydropower capacity. The present major private developers are Malana Power Company Ltd., the Jaypee Group and S. Kumar Group. Seeing the vast potential present in the hydro power generation, Jaypee ventured into private power generation on a “Build, Own, Operate” (BOO) basis. So far Jaypee has the distinction of participating in 54% of new hydropower projects under India’s Tenth Five Year Plan.

Small Hydro-Power: A Viable Option

Small Hydropower Project in Himachal Pradesh
Small 100 KW hydro power project in Himachal Pradesh
(Photo: MNES)

Small and mini hydel projects have the potential to provide energy in remote and hilly areas where extension of an electrical transmission grid system is uneconomical. Realising this fact, the Indian government is encouraging development of small hydro power (SHP) projects in the country. Since 1994 the role of private sector for setting up of commercial SHP projects has been encouraged. So far 14 States in India have announced policies for setting up commercial SHP projects through private sector participation. Over 760 sites of about 2,000 MW capacity have already been offered / allotted.

An estimated potential of about 15,000 MW of small hydropower (SHP) projects exists in India. 4,233 potential sites with an aggregate capacity of 10,071 MW for projects up to 25 MW capacities have been identified (See Table-4). In the last 10-12 years, the capacity of Small hydro projects up to 3MW has increased 4 fold from 63 MW to 240 MW. 420 small hydropower projects up to 25MW station capacity with an aggregate capacity of over 1,423 MW have been set up in the country and over 187 projects in this range with aggregate capacity of 521 MW are under construction.

The MNES provides various incentives like soft loans for setting up of SHP projects up to 25 MW capacity in the commercial sector, renovation and modernization of SHP projects, setting up of portable micro hydel sets, development / upgradation of water mills, detailed survey and investigation, detailed project report preparation, interest subsidy for commercial projects, capital subsidy for SHP projects in the North-Eastern region, and implementation of UNDP/GEF Hilly Hydro project. India has a reasonably well-established manufacturing base for the full range and type of small hydro equipment. There are currently eight manufacturers within India in the field of small hydro manufacturing, supplying various types of turbines, generators, control equipment, etc.

Chart of Hydropower Sites in India Capable of 25MW
Sites capable of up to 25 MW capacity,
another 5,000 MW is believed to be possible.
(Photo: MNES)

The Role of International Agencies on Hydro-Power

Major hydro-power structures are being funded by international financial institutions like World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), Export Credit Agency, and bilateral agencies like Japan Bank for International Cooperation(JBIC), and the French Government, Canada, UK, Sweden, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and the US in India. Since 1956 the World Bank has been involved in the hydro-power development in India. The Bank is looking to support India’s hydro development program ( through financial assistance for up to about 1,500 MW of hydropower capacity over the next three to five years. Besides the 412 MW Rampur Hydroelectric Project approved by the Bank’s Board in early September 2007 (, the Bank also received a request to finance the proposed 444 MW Vishnugad Pipalkoti Hydropower Project ( being developed by the Tehri Hydro Development Corporation on the Alaknanda River in the state of Uttranchal. The Bank would also like to assist in the 700 MW Luhri hydro power project in Himachal Pradesh.

Similarly, the Asian Development Bank has begun its engagement in producing hydro-power in Uttranchal in India with 4 SHPs (4-10 MW). However, the Manila based-regional development bank believes that India’s vast hydropower potential can contribute to the country’s energy security in an environmentally sustainable and socially responsible manner. The latest report of ADB (Hydropower Development in India, 2007) provides an assessment of the hydropower development potential in India and highlights how hydropower can meet the country’s goal of providing power for all by 2012. In all probability, the World Bank would like to assist in construction of hydropower structures; the ADB will lay the transmission lines from the projects to the grid.

As major rivers transcend international boundaries in South Asia, India has taken up regional (mostly bilateral) cooperation on harnessing the hydro-power potential of international river systems. At present, India has cooperation with Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar on hydro-power.

Challenges and Constraints

The hydro-power in India has always caught the imagination of people’s struggle, displacement, and submergence of large virgin forest tracts and now, the instrument of greenhouse gas emissions. The large hydropower infrastructures usually categorise with adjectives such as “temples of modern India” or “monument to corruptions” or “weapons of mass destruction” and so on. Can these perceptions be changed on the issue of large hydro-power dams?

From a hydro-engineering point of view, the immense potential of hydropower in India is yet to be harnessed. For an engineer, it’s mandatory to build a dam for producing electricity. One of my hydro-engineer colleagues in India’s government argues, “the hydro power is the best option in the Indian context considering the large volume of water going to waste. Besides, hydro-power is better than thermal power as the former is cheaper, can be generated and utilised as per the need without any overhead costs for idle runs.” “Also the thermal units take a longer time to be restarted,” adds the Engineer who is preparing mega hydro-power projects in Orissa. The Engineer tries to convince me that “there are no flaws in hydro power except building a reservoir, and sometimes commissioning of the projects takes more time. The government’s last resort is run of the river (RoR) projects which are the small ones with less producing capacity. This is explored when one does not have the other option.”

For anti-dam activists hydro-power is just an option, not mandatory. They view any estimate on hydropower – the very fact of putting a number with an electricity unit – as flawed and fraudulent. From this perspective, water-the-resource, has other utilities and needs more significant than than generating electricity. Anti-dam activists point out the centralized character of large hydro power projects, with high costs, potential under performance, violations and inequity as the basic flaws.

Hydropower provides one of the strongest examples of the close link between water and energy. Because of its link with large dam projects, which are often environmentally and socially harmful, hydropower has been the focus of heated debate for the last two decades in India. The main negative impacts of dams include displacement of local populations and degradation of ecosystems, adverse down-stream effects on rivers and threatening livelihoods of large numbers of people. Hydro-power has been contested by all except government officials for its efficiency or being green. It’s true that there is little attempt for credible assessment of performance of large hydro. Of late, the large hydro projects have been presented by neo-anti-dam experts as instruments of emission of greenhouse gases more than remedies of climate change because the large dams are the public image of environmental and social degradation in the developing world. The IPCC recognized in its 2006 guidelines on greenhouse gas inventories that reservoirs are a source of emissions, but more research is needed to be able to accurately quantify the extent of these emissions, especially of methane. So whether hydropower is green and renewable or not is gaining more heated discourse than its centralised character of production, distribution and management.

On the other hand, the Ministry of Power is taking notes of the long gestation period from preparation to implementation of the project which is actually hampering the capacity addition. The other weaknesses are duration of preparing a project report, taking an investment decision, acquiring land, getting environment clearance, placing orders for execution of the project. Also there is a great imbalance in capacity addition among the States. However, the major problem is the opposition to hydro power projects all over India.

Should India Achieve its Hydro-Power Potential?

Small Hyrdopower Station in West Bengal
Sidrapong, a small 130 KW Hydro Power Station in
West Bengal; a heritage of Hydro power in India.
(Photo: MNES)

The trust in government and its bureaucracy has been eroding in India thereby leaving more avenues for contested domains. It has been very difficult transforming the government intentions to produce electricity from the large water infrastructures after the Sardar Sorvar Project debacle in the early 1990′s. The small hydro projects are being cautiously implemented by the governments. However in some cases the adverse socio-economic and environmental impacts of large dams can be mitigated through informed decision-making, transparency and engagement of all stakeholders. In all probability, the advantages and disadvantages of hydro-power structures, large or small, have to be discussed with people transparently.

The present social and environmental assessments of the hydro projects are flawed from many angles which triggers real and imaginary conflicts of interest. To settle the People’s concern, after two years of debate the Indian Cabinet has recently passed the National Policy on Rehabilitation and Resettlement, 2007. In particular, there has to be clear recognition in all decision making related to dams that a balance needs to found between the needs for use of renewable energy, and the minimization of possible harmful effects on the environment – especially mountain environments where most of the hydro-potential resides. Mountain regions have particular potential for use and production of renewable energy, not only hydro, but also biomass, solar, geothermal or wind; clearly, the adverse environmental effects on fragile mountain ecosystems need to be carefully assessed and prevented before developments take place. Also, possible social issues between upstream (often poor mountain communities) and downstream communities (often the main beneficiaries of energy production) need to be addressed.

About the Author: Avilash Roul has been writing, advocating, researching, creating knowledge on Environment and Development in various English Daily media since 2000. He worked with Down To Earth (fortnightly magazine published in New Delhi, India) for the last three years. He also contributed regularly in Sundays for a column in New India Express on environment and development. More recently, Mr. Roul worked as an Assistant South Asia Regional Coordinator for the Bank Information Center (, an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization that advocates for the protection of rights, participation, transparency, and public accountability in the governance and operations of the World Bank, regional development banks, and the International Monetary Fund.

Email the Editor about this Article
EcoWorld - Nature and Technology in Harmony

23 Responses to “India's Hydro Power”
  1. ganesh chand says:

    sir namaskar i want know low cost hydro elect power be cause in my place uttarnchal too much water bestong from the high mountain so we want use water and make elect we have to do money thanku sir

  2. vishwendra singh says:

    sir i want to know about clearence involved in small hydro plant

  3. sairam says:

    dear sir

    i want to know about the costing of 1 mega hydropower project plant,could you help us in approximate estimation or could you please tell us about any consultantys in this regard

    thanking you

  4. Dr.v.v.somayajulu says:

    It is a very informative article for everybody

  5. franklee says:

    highest power( MW) producing hydro power plant in india
    name of the power plant ?
    place of the power plant?

  6. O.P. Rahi says:

    Dear Sir,
    Really an illustrative and informative article in hydro power. Having such a vast potential of hydro electricty, there is only IIT Roorkee who is putting R&D efforts in this direction.
    This R& D area needs to be strenthened much more.
    With regards,

  7. abhay pathak says:


  8. AMIT GOYAL says:

    I want to know the investment required for setting up 1 MW hydel power plant, including all expenses of plant & machineery, civil work, clerance and survey costs.

    Also what is the subsidy that government gives on such projects and on what conditions and formalities.

    Which part in india is best suited for such projecst taking into account the availability of resources,convenience of clerances, civil costs and other related factors. at what rate the loan is available for this and whether world bank also gives loan for small hydel projects.

    what is the working capital & maintenence cost of 1 MW plant, and what is the break-even profit factor and viability of the project.
    Please guide with all relevant figures


  9. AMIT GOYAL says:

    whether Uttranchal or Himachal pradesh is best suited for 1 MW hydel project taking into account the availability of resources,convenience of clerances, civil costs and other related factors. at what rate the loan is available for this and whether world bank also gives loan for small hydel projects.

  10. D.K.Bansal says:

    Dear Sir,
    Kindly intimate if environmental clearance is required for hydro power project of less than 25 MW station capacity.

  11. Abhishek Swami says:

    A very informative article.
    I am interested in developing a small hydro project in north-east india. I would want to know if it is better to have a in-house team for planning to preparing all the reports (feasibiltity, DPR, etc) or outsourcing it. Also I would want to know the various cost analisys sheets that I will need to prepare to find the econimic feasibility of a project.

    Kindly provide me with your contact details, if possible.It would be a pleasure to be in communication with you.

    Best Regards,

    Abhishek Swami

  12. vikram says:

    the article was very informative. We are looking at possibilities of setting up a small hydro power plant in karnataka, could you please let me know how i can get more details and proceed.

  13. Eswar Rao says:

    The artcile is very informative. Am interested to set up a small hydro power project in the southern part of Orissa. Can you please let me know who can help me for more details on it. Also I want to know the potential locations in Orissa.

  14. sudeep batta says:

    dear sir
    i want complete knowledge of mini hydro project in india.kindly suggest me the way out.

    thanks and regards

  15. Marlucia Martire says:

    Dear Sir,

    I am a brazilian International Businness Developer in the field of Small Hydro Pwer. We will be going to participate in a Businness Meeting in Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune, next 7-11 september/2009. I work for a company that provides all services in the field of Hydro Power.

    If do you know investors interested in this field of Renewable Energy we can meet in those days… Many others companies will be representated in tthe event.

    See you there!!!

    Marlucia mArtire
    International Business Developer

  16. Marlucia Martire says:

    Dear Eswar Rao,

    If you are yet interested to know more details about Small Hydro Power Plant in your state. Please you can write me directly to

    Best Regards,


  17. Sir,
    I want to know the investment required for setting up 1 MW hydel power plant, including all expenses of plant & machineery, civil work, clerance and survey costs.

    Also what is the subsidy that government gives on such projects and on what conditions and formalities.

    what is the working capital & maintenence cost of 1 MW plant, and what is the break-even profit factor and viability of the project.
    Please guide with all relevant figures


  18. ms matharu says:

    Will indian government take any clue from the chineese.Hydroelectricity can reduce our countys dependence on imported costly,pl hurry up we have already lagged far behind.eEectricity is a power which no army or armament can match.

  19. To potential Hydel users.
    S.W.P. from Aust.will be releasing a low head river run vertical turbine in the near future. The mechanism has vertical vanes which are feathered against the up stream current by a planetry gearing system.
    The units can be small 10 Kw. stand alone to power villages, arrays of larger units for provential towns that could be grid connected. There is no requirement for dams or barrages and the vanes rotate slowly so fish can safely pass through. Turbines can be installed in as little as 3 mt. of running water. This machine works like a very sophisticated water wheel. Please contact Lee at above address.
    Lee Morrissey, Sundermann Sales

  20. Anuj sharma says:

    A very informative article.
    I am interested in developing a small hydro project in Central india. I would want to know if it is better to have a in-house team for planning to preparing all the reports (feasibiltity, DPR, etc) or outsourcing it. Also I would want to know the various cost analisys sheets that I will need to prepare to find the econimic feasibility of a project.
    Kindly provide me with your contact details, if possible.It would be a pleasure to be in communication with you.

  21. n k bhandari says:

    A very interesting article. I will like to have the addresses of companies who are interested to have a joint venture for 20 Mw hydro power plant in Maharashtra. My project report is at advance stage of approval with govt.the irr is 14 % without CCS

  22. hi…we have invested in wind energy about 40MW and now we are interested in investing in hydropower …so we want to know the detail …how to start…where to do the project and wht are the benifits in different state and wht is the cost for 1 MW…etc…..

  23. Nagaraju says:

    Dear Sir,

    Please visit for your requirement. They will help you for all your requirements in the field of Hydro Electric Project.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.