The renewable energy sector in the hilly state of Himachal Pradesh is on a growth trajectory and it is primarily being driven by solar and hydropower resources. The total installed power generation capacity in the state as of January 2021 stood at 4,129.97 MW. Renewable energy, excluding large hydro, accounted for 963.44 MW, which is about 23 per cent of the total energy mix of the state. While large hydropower makes up about 70 per cent of the installed power capacity, large hydro along with other renewables accounts for nearly 94 per cent.
Himurja, the energy development agency of the state, has been the key force in driving strategic initiatives in renewable energy production in the state. The agency aims to provide adequate power at an economical cost while ensuring reliability and quality of supply.
Large to small hydro
Himachal Pradesh is rich in hydropower, having access to a large volume of water from the catchment areas of the Satluj, Beas, Ravi and Chenab rivers. These rivers are further divided into tributaries which have enormous potential for hydroelectricity generation. The total hydropower potential of Himachal Pradesh is estimated to be about 25,000 MW, of which only about 15 per cent has been realised. Hydropower has been an integral part of the state’s economic growth. The state also has a hydropower policy in place which helps to effectively utilise the untapped hydropower potential. SJVN Limited, which is a joint venture of the central government and the Himachal Pradesh government is undertaking various hydropower projects in the state. Recently, it invited bids to develop the 66 MW Dhaulasidh hydroelectric project.
Although power is a crucial aspect for social and economic development, the state also recognises the need to address the environmental impact of power generation. Hence, Himachal Pradesh has been emphasising on the generation of power through small-hydro projects of capacities up to 5 MW through Himurja. Small hydroelectric power projects are small-scale plants serving the energy needs of a small community or an industrial plant. These projects usually have no bondage of water and involve minimal civil work, in turn, having a relatively lower environmental impact vis-à-vis the larger hydroelectric projects. Further, environmental degradation can be prevented by ensuring strategic development of small hydroelectric projects.
Himachal Pradesh has been expanding its efforts to deploy solar power projects across the state. In line with the national policy, the state government came up with its Solar Power Policy in 2014. In order to further simplify the process of setting up projects, a revised version of the policy was issued in 2016. The state government is making efforts to help in achieving the targets set under the country’s solar programme and plans to set up 220 MW of solar capacity by 2022.
The central government has a target of setting up 40 GW in grid-connected rooftop solar mode. To support this initiative at the state level, Himachal Pradesh has formulated guidelines for setting up rooftop solar plants. As per the guidelines, any person can install a rooftop solar power plant. The beneficiary can install a rooftop solar power plant of 30 per cent of the capacity of the total load sanctioned by Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board Limited. (HPSEBL), after seeking its consent. The rooftop solar power plant will be installed on a net off subsidy basis and a bidirectional meter will be installed by HPSEBL. However, the cost of the meter will have to be borne by the beneficiary. Himachal Pradesh is also encouraging farmers and unemployed youth to set up projects in a distributed fashion with
equity contribution of Rs 5 million per MW from the state. These plants will be in the range of 500 kW to 5 MW, with priority given to smaller projects. Under its solar thermal programme, Himurja provides solar appliances such as solar cookers and community solar cooking systems as well as solar water heaters.
Among renewable energy technologies, solar power is currently the most viable option for the state to supplement hydroelectric power. In January 2021, the Himachal Pradesh Electricity Regulatory Commission (HPERC) issued generic levellised tariffs for solar projects not exceeding 5 MW for financial year 2020-21. The proposed tariff is Rs 3.41 per unit for solar projects up to 1 MW and Rs 3.37 per unit for projects above 1 MW to 5 MW in areas other than industrial and urban areas. These tariffs are relatively on a higher side, especially considering that in recent auctions the all-time low rate of Rs 2 per unit was achieved.
The state has been slowly scaling up its solar power deployment. In September 2019, Himurja announced its new programme for installing 28 MW of solar power capacity in the state. The state invited proposals from local entrepreneurs for setting up ground-mounted solar projects with capacities ranging from 250 kW to 500 kW. Following this, in June 2020, the Punjab Energy Development Agency (PEDA) on behalf of the Bhakra Beas Management Board (BBMB) invited bids for setting up grid-connected solar power projects of 2 MW capacity in the Neilla Bhakra Dam Village in Bilaspur. Soon after in July 2020, the Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) floated a tender for setting up a 15 MW grid-connected floating solar power plant at the Nangal Pond in Bilaspur district. The breakthrough in this trajectory of solar project development came about with the plan to set up a solar park in Himachal Pradesh. In November 2020, it was announced that an 880 MW solar project will be developed in the town of Kaza, in Lahaul and Spiti district. The contract for developing the solar park was awarded to SJVN Limited. Further, the state government plans to install 6 GW renewable energy capacity in the Spiti region and the Chenab basin. The contract for implementing the power project in the Chenab basin was allocated to SJVN Limited, NTPC Limited and NHPC. However, there is an urgent need to prepare an effective evacuation plan for both these regions.
Bioenergy and geothermal
During his speech at the third RE-Invest 2020, Jai Ram Thakur, the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, mentioned that the state has immense biogas potential. He stated that the state government was working on a programme to use cow manure as raw material for biogas production. Further, in order to exploit the available bioenergy potential for power generation, the government has launched the “Pine Needle-based Briquette” programme.
In January 2020, the Himachal Pradesh government gave approval to amend the policy for the collection and use of pine needles as fuel in industrial units to reduce forest fires in the state. The pine forests in the state cover an area of up to 5,500 sq. ft. and these trees shed needles in summers that are rich in turpentine oil, which is highly inflammable. The policy for the collection and removal of pine needles from forest areas to reduce fire hazards has been amended. This is expected to encourage stakeholders to work towards removing the highly inflammable needles. The policy also aims to encourage industries to use pine needles as fuel. In addition to the more conventional renewable energy technologies, Himachal Pradesh has a significant geothermal energy potential. In October 2020, the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG), an autonomous institute under the Department of Science and Technology (DST), identified around 35 springs in the state from which geothermal energy can be tapped and used to generate electricity. According to the research institute, each of these springs could generate up to 5 MW of electricity.
Power is critical for the socio-economic development of any state. Additionally, there is a need to understand the value of natural resources and conserve them sustainably. The state’s natural resources offer the potential to provide cheap, renewable and reliable power to the people of Himachal Pradesh, especially those living in the remote hinterland. Himurja plans to improve the quality of power especially in rural and tribal areas through electricity generation from small-hydro and other renewable energy projects such as distributed solar.
In a nutshell, Himachal Pradesh seems set on the path of renewable growth, which is based on an approach to develop not only large-scale projects but also smaller distributed projects to ensure energy access for remote communities.
By Meghaa Gangahar