Hydropower in India

Juan Leis-Pretto
December 17, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017

Current State

Fig. 1: The Kuri Chhu river in Bhutan offers great potential for hydropower in India. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

India's population is increasing at a rate of about 1.58%. [1] Because of such a rapid population increase, power consumption is soaring in India. [2] As fossil fuels deplete, India will likely face energy shortages from two ends - increased energy prices and energy insecurity. [1]

India's large population and high economic growth rate has caused a high demand for energy. This demand has caused India to look for energy outside its own borders. Currently, India imports around 33% of it total energy needs. [3] To make matters worse, about 70% of India's power generation is based on coal. A source without a stable future. [3]

Currently, in India and other countries as big, there is a very high demand for fossil fuels such as petroleum, oil, and coal. With that being said, it is extremely important for India to find a solution.

With the ever changing world, it is important to find renewable energy sources. Renewable energy resources and innovations are they key to solving various of the world's pressing energy issues and needs. Renewable energy sources such as wind energy, solar energy, geothermal energy, ocean energy, biomass energy, and fuel cell technology can be used to solve India's energy shortage. [1] Due to India's rapidly increasing population, in the coming future, the country will require about 3-4 times more energy than it consumes today. [1] In India's current energy set up, renewable energy accounts for roughly 33% of India's primary energy consumption. India has recognized that renewable energy is key in finding a solution to both the current and future energy problems. They show this by the fact that they have invested parts of the last two and a half decades in the research, the development, the demonstration, the production and the application of multiple renewable energy technologies. [1]

Assessment For Hydropower

Fortunately, India has various renewable energy avenues available to them due to their location and resources. They have the following at their disposal: biomass, solar, wind, geothermal, and small hydropower. [1] Current renewable energy, excluding hydro projects, account for roughly 9% of the total installed energy capacity in India. However, if we were to take into account the large hydro, then the capacity would sky rocket to 34%. [1]

According to Sharma et. al., the best solution to India's energy problem is the development of hydropower and small hydropower (SHP) plants. [4] One of the reasons for this suggested solution is that India is endowed hydropower resources that are both viable and economically exploitable. The geography of India lends itself to a high hydropower potential. The fast flowing rivers in Bhutan generate an estimated 30,000 MW. The Kuri Chhu river in Bhutan, pictured in Fig. 1, is a prime example of the resources available to India. Currently, only about 1488 MW is actually used. From this 1488 MW, about 75% of it is exported to power India. Another hydropower project, the Chukha hydropower project, would would supply around 282 MW more to India. Another project, the Kurichhu hydroelectric project in Eastern Bhutan is yet another project that contributes to the renewable energy potential in India. Due to the continues partnership between India and Bhutan, there are more future projects planned. The governments of Bhutan and Indian plan to construct a total of ten Hydropower Projects. The anticipated energy capacity is around 11,576 MW - planned for the year 2020.

As of February of 2013, hydropower is the second biggest contributor of the energy consumed in India. [4] With the future planned constructions, India's hydropower capabilities would greatly increase.

Issues To Overcome

India contains huge hydropower potential. However, some of it is unreachable. There is huge potential of hydropower at inaccessible mountainous regions. Another challenge is the rough and inaccessible terrain profiles that have untapped hydropower. [5]

Fig. 2: The Sutlej River faces negative ecological effects if hydropower projects take place there. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Although the expansion of hydropower projects help push Indian economic development, they also lead to environmental damage and issues regarding the re-allocation of land and water resources. The line of reasoning is as follows: mountain rivers are used for hydropower project development, which leads to two major problems. For one, the ecological conditions of the mountain rivers are altered, which causes the second issue. There is little room for original habitats. For example, most of the hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh are "run-of-river" projects that divert the natural river flow into tunnels that run parallel to the original river flow. This division and diversion of the flow of rivers, causes large parts of the riverbed to dry up. [2] In effect, rivers like the Sutlej River, shown in Fig. 2, would face severe negative ecological effects. [2]

As an example, the Sutlej River will be divided into a system of tunnels and reservoirs, right from the entrance. Only a few short parts of the river will be left untouched. [2] But that's not it, the Beas, Ravi, and Chenab rivers would also face similar transformations. For one specific river, the Ravi river, out of the 70 km stretch, only 3 km of the river flow will remain untouched.

Treacherous terrain, inaccessible mountain areas, river limits, and land degradation are the main factors against the building of hydropower projects. [5]


One thing to keep in mind when deciding the future of hydropower is that there is little known evidence of the cumulative effects hydropower plants can have. [2] This works both ways. In theory, the cumulative effects which hydropower plants would have on the rivers, could not be as bad as some foretell it to be. On the other hand, they could be far worse than predicted. While India seems determined to largely expand hydropower throughout the country, the best approach appears to be one of slowing down. As mentioned earlier in the paper, India and Bhutan have plans of rapid hydropower expansion. The most environmentally friendly approach would be to roll back the amount of hydropower projects taking place and instead observe the effects they have on the nation and land before proceeding with more and more projects.

© Juan Leis-Pretto. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] A. Kumar, et al., "Renewable Energy in India: Current Status and Future Potentials," Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 14, 2434 (2010).

[2] A. Erlewein, "Disappearing Rivers - The Limits of Environmental Assessment for Hydropower in India," Environ. Impact Assess. 43, 135 (2013).

[3] V. Jadhav, "Renewable Energy in India," Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2016.

[4] N. K. Sharma, P. Kumar, and Y. R. Sood, "A Comprehensive Analysis of Strategies, Policies and Development of Hydropower in India: Special Emphasis on Small Hydro Power," Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 18, 460 (2013)

[5] S. Dudhani, A. K. Sinha, and S. S. Inamdar, "Assessment of Small Hydropower Potential Using Remote Sensing Data For Sustainable Development in India," Energy Policy 34, 3195 (2006).