Hydro power will play a key role in India’s clean energy transition, says Power Secretary Alok Kumar, adding that the Ministry is working an a new hydro power policy to enhance the sector’s viability. Kumar, who superannuated on June 30, told businessline in an interview that the policy will focus on making tariffs viable, with plans afoot to offer financial incentives for laying enabling infrastructure. Excerpts:

Q

Hydro power is one of the key focus areas for the government. Your thoughts?

India has a definite place for hydro power in its energy mix and planning. We are keen to develop our hydro power resources as soon as possible, but at the same time, ensure that environmental concerns are addressed. We conduct an in-depth environmental impact assessment for every project and required safeguards are put in place. Studies have shown that incidents of landslides have come down after hydro power projects are built. They result in general economic prosperity and lead to environmental stability, more greenery in those areas.

Q

What are the government’s plans for expanding hydro power?

We came out with guidelines for pumped storage projects (PSPs) in April 2023, which received a good response. I’m told that industry has approached the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) for close to 30,000 megawatts (MW) of projects.

The new hydro power policy will have two features. First, all stakeholders will work to ensure that hydro power tariffs are kept in a viable range vis-a-vis benchmark tariffs. So, Central Government entities and states will chip in during the initial 12-15 years. Second, to make hydro power projects viable, government financial assistance would be extended for enabling infrastructure, such as providing transmission lines from the project to pooling stations. Earlier, it included roads and bridges. There is also a proposal to support the North-Eastern states to acquire up to 24 per cent equity in a project so that they are full partners in it and help in its early commissioning. They will earn return on equity in addition to free power for the rest of the life of the project. It is a win-win situation.

Q

Recently, India was ranked 67th on the WEF’s Energy Transition Index. How do you view this development?

Our rank has improved. It is a good development. Although a developing country with low per capita emission, India is one of the largest economies witnessing rapid energy transitions. This is a far more important lesson. What is relevant is what the country is doing. It is trying to do far more than what is expected from a developing country.

That India’s efforts are being recognised is a matter of satisfaction. It has been clear and forthcoming in its endeavours. Though all the major economies talk of Net Zero in 2050, barring one or two countries in Europe, the rest never spell out clearly what they plan to do in the next 10 years. That shows their sincerity.

Q

The Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) has played a key role in this. Your thoughts?

No single institution in India has contributed to energy efficiency as the BEE. On the supply side, there are ministries and a large number of CPSEs which are involved in energy transition. But on the demand side, it is the BEE which has contributed immensely. They have done commendable work. However, a lot more needs to be done. The BEE has been doing this job with limited resources, but with dedication and sincerity. I’m sure it will contribute to half of the transition on the demand side.

Q

As you hang your boots and look back, what are your thoughts on India’s power sector?

I would say we are mid-way and the journey is not complete. Our near future milestone is 2030. There is a fixed plan to achieve 500 GW of non-fossil fuel capacity. We have also come out with a detailed plan for evacuation of power and transmission lines have been identified.

We also have a clear roadmap for development of grid storage capacity in terms of battery storage and PSPs. Also, the MNRE has come out with annual targets. This is supported by the PLI scheme. So we have a definite action plan in place.

On the demand and consumption side, we have done well in our programme for industrial energy efficiency. The BEE has prepared action plans sector by sector, with clear sub-targets and technology interventions. We have run a successful programme of standards and labelling of efficient appliances, building code and matching the target of 45 per cent reduction in energy intensity, . We have also worked with other ministries such as MoPNG, steel, etc.

The amendment to the Energy Conservation Act passed by Parliament in December 2022 is proof of our political commitment to take the energy transition journey forward.

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