Formed in the year 2000, the small hilly state of Uttarakhand has a significant potential for renewable energy generation, especially through hydropower. It has multiple micro-climatic zones such as “cold and sunny” and “cold and cloudy”, while some locations such as Dehradun lie under the semi-moderate climatic region. The plains in the state such as Haridwar, Roorkee, Kashipur and Rudrapur lie in the composite climatic zone. Due to the inflow of tourists, power demand is higher in summer months; this coincides with a greater volume of water in the rivers due to the melting of snow in the upper reaches of the mountains. Due to a large hydropower generation, Uttarakhand has some of the lowest grid tariffs in the country. Such low tariffs attract a large number of commercial and industrial consumers to the state.
In addition to developing hydropower, the state has been scaling up its efforts to deploy solar power and harness its biomass potential. Since 2008 the Uttarakhand Renewable Energy Development Agency (UREDA) has been functioning as the nodal agency and spearheading the development of renewable energy in the state with support from the Bureau of Energy Efficiency. As of November 2020, Uttarakhand had a total installed power generation capacity of 3,553.42 MW. Hydropower made up the majority of this capacity (52 per cent), while other renewables constituted about 18 per cent. Renewable power generation in the state was up by almost 9 per cent during April-October 2020, compared to the corresponding period in the previous year.
Uttarakhand’s total installed solar power capacity stood at only 5 MW at the end of financial year 2014-15. It has increased significantly in recent years to stand at 319.92 MW as of November 2020, according to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE). Solar power accounts for 9 per cent of the total installed power capacity. The state receives a good amount of solar insolation, of about 4.5-5.5 kWh per square metre, which can be tapped for electricity generation. The estimated solar power potential in the state is 4,077 MW. In order to exploit this potential, the state has been working towards promoting solar uptake.
One of the key policy initiatives taken by the state is the solar policy, which was released in 2013 and has since seen minor amendments, first in 2015 and then in 2018. Under the policy, the minimum and maximum capacity that can be allocated to each developer is 100 kW and 50 MW, respectively. Further, the state has a rooftop and small solar plant scheme, and another one for canal top installations. There is also a solar programme in place to promote distributed solar applications. The programme focuses on the promotion of solar energy applications such as solar lanterns, solar street lights and solar home lights.
In a recent initiative, the state government linked solar power production with its endeavour to generate employment, especially to alleviate the impact of the Covid-19. In October 2020, it launched the Mukhya Mantri Saur Swarojgar Yojana, which aims at creating self-employment for nearly 10,000 youths. Under the scheme, the beneficiaries will be allocated solar plants of 25 kW each. UREDA has invited bids to empanel firms to develop 250 MW of solar power projects. Under the programme, 10,000 solar projects would be installed, and the maximum benchmark cost for a 1 kW solar power project has been set at Rs 40,000.
Among other recent developments, in September 2020, the Uttarakhand Electricity Regulatory Commission (UERC) issued generic tariffs for rooftop and small solar projects under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthan Mahabhiyan (PM-KUSUM) programme with a subsidy of 80 per cent. Considering the accelerated depreciation benefit, the UERC approved a generic tariff of Rs 3.48 per kWh for projects up to 10 kW, Rs 3.14 per kWh for projects above 10 kW and up to 100 kW, Rs 2.90 per kWh for projects above 100 kW and up to 500 kW, and Rs 2.85 per kWh for projects above 500 kW and up to 1 MW.
Power of hydro
The state has a large network of rivers and canals, providing immense scope for hydropower utilisation. It has an estimated hydropower potential of about 25 GW. However, Uttarakhand has so far utilised less than 10 per cent of this potential. This is owing to environmental concerns around large hydropower projects especially after the devastating 2013 floods. With issues surrounding large hydro projects, the state is open to exploit its hydropower potential through smaller projects. It has a total estimated small hydropower potential of 1,700 MW and an installed capacity of about 214.32 MW at present. The slow growth is primarily due to challenges such as delays and difficulties in obtaining permissions, large capex, low tariffs and modest returns. While the state has been trying to create a conducive environment for small hydropower projects, much work remains to be done. Uttarakhand issued a policy for the development of micro and mini hydropower (of capacity up to 2 MW) in 2015. The projects under this policy are categorised as: micro hydropower projects, with capacities up to 100 kW, and mini hydropower projects, with capacities ranging from 100 kW to 2 MW. There is also a separate policy for the development of small hydropower (above 2 MW). Based on the generating capacity, small hydropower projects are grouped under the following two categories: projects above 2 MW and up to 5 MW, and those above 5 MW.
Pines and needles
Uttarakhand has a rich biomass resource, especially in the form of pine litter. Of the total forest area in the state, 16.36 per cent is covered by Chir Pine forests. As per estimates, over 1.5 million metric tonnes (MT) of pine litter is generated annually in reserve and van panchayat forests (excluding the wild life area). Apart from pine litter, about 0.8 MT of other biomass (in the form of agricultural crop residues and lantana) is available for industrial purposes. There is significant potential for scaling up generation of energy through biomass. The state has a total estimated potential of about 262 MW of electricity generation through this mode.
To promote energy generation from pine litter and other types of biomass, the state issued a policy in 2018. The policy is expected to not only reduce incidents of forest fires but also generate employment in rural places. It envisages achieving the target of 100 MW and setting up 50 biomass briquetting and bio-oil plants of maximum 2,000 MT per annum capacity by 2030. The maximum and minimum capacity allocation to each developer will be 10 kW and 250 kW, respectively, under the policy.
In June 2020, UREDA issued a tender under the pine litter policy for developing briquetting or bio-oil projects based on biomass-based fuels. As per the tender, the maximum capacity of a project must not be more than 2,000 MT annually. The tender did not specify minimum capacity. Selected developers have to obtain necessary approvals and clearances from various departments. These include approvals from the pollution control board, forest department, revenue department, van panchayats and industries department.
As per the preliminary survey done by NTPC Limited, two sites namely Tapovan (Chamoli) and Dharma (Pithoragarh) have been identified to have a geothermal potential of approximately 20 MW. In October 2020, the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG), an autonomous institute under the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India, identified around 40 hot springs in Uttarakhand and 35 in Himachal Pradesh from which geothermal energy can be tapped and used for electricity generation. To this end, the institute signed an MoU with Jaydevm Energies Private Limited, for the development of a 5 MW geothermal energy plant at Tapovan hot springs in Rishikesh.
In Uttarakhand, renewable energy sources such as solar, biomass and small hydropower, which do not require huge capital investments or centralised systems, are viable options for power generation. Over the years, UREDA has focused on the promulgation of renewable energy to ensure basic needs such as electricity are made available to people living in remote and inaccessible areas. While hydropower project development has almost come to a halt, there are new opportunities in the solar and biomass power segments. Solar energy development is happening at a steady pace, with efforts such as the Mukhya Mantri Saur Swarojgar Yojana supporting the uptake of small-scale. Meanwhile, power generation using pine needles as biomass has gained traction. Given the current scenario, the state of Uttarakhand seems on track to develop a diversified and distributed renewable energy portfolio.