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Hydropower Challenges Amidst Climate Variability

GS-3 Mains Exam : Hydropower Challenges

Revision Notes

Question : “Hydropower remains a vital component of the renewable energy mix despite facing significant challenges.” Elaborate on the significance of hydropower as a renewable energy source.

Key Points:

  • Droughts and floods, intensified by climate change, threaten hydropower generation.
  • Recent droughts in Colombia and Ecuador severely impacted hydropower, forcing Ecuador to declare a state of emergency.
  • Hydropower accounts for over 80% of electricity generation in countries like DR Congo, Ethiopia, and Zambia, many of which are facing droughts.


  • One of the oldest and largest sources of renewable energy.
  • Uses the natural flow of water to generate electricity.
  • Currently generates more electricity than all other renewable technologies combined.
  • Expected to remain the world’s largest source of renewable electricity generation into the 2030s.

Classification of Hydro Projects (Based on Installed Capacity):

  • Micro: Upto 100 KW
  • Mini: 101KW to 2 MW
  • Small: 2 MW to 25 MW
  • Mega: Hydro projects with installed capacity >= 500 MW

Hydropower in India:

  • Contributes 12.5% of power generation in 2022-23.
  • India has about 4745.6 MW pumped storage capacity in operation in 2023.
  • Hilly states like Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, and Uttarakhand hold the most potential.
  • Other potential states include Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, and Kerala.

Significance of Hydro Power:

  • Renewable Energy Source: Relies on the water cycle, continuously replenished by rainfall and snowmelt.
  • Clean Energy: Produces minimal greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels.
  • Reliable and Predictable: Provides consistent and reliable electricity unlike solar and wind.
  • Flexible and Controllable: Output can be quickly adjusted to match electricity demand.
  • Multipurpose Use: Provides flood control, irrigation, water supply, and recreational opportunities.
  • Long Lifespan: Hydropower infrastructure can last over 50 years with proper maintenance.

Challenges of Large-Scale Hydropower Projects

  • Environmental Impact
    • Disrupts ecosystems and fish habitats
    • Alters local biodiversity
    • Causes sediment buildup and water temperature changes downstream
  • Social Impacts
    • Displaces communities
    • Disrupts livelihoods of those relying on rivers
  • High Initial Costs
    • Significant upfront investment required
  • Climate Change Vulnerability
    • Reliant on consistent water flow
    • Affected by variations in precipitation patterns and glacial melt
    • 8.5% drop in hydroelectricity globally over the last two decades (UK thinktank)
  • Sedimentation
    • Dams trap sediment
    • Reservoirs fill up with sediment over time
    • Reduces capacity and impacts efficiency of hydropower facilities
  • Maintenance Challenges
    • Requires regular maintenance for safe and efficient operation

Way Ahead

  • Diversify power sources with other renewables (wind, solar)
  • Floating solar panels on hydropower plant surfaces (China, Brazil)
  • Build more medium-scale plants to mitigate climate risks
  • Global hydropower expansion expected to slow down this decade without major policy changes



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