Renewable Energy is projected to dominate the global energy scene within a decade or so. Global supply of renewable energy rose by 8pc in 2022 in total energy supplies from all resources compared to its nominal share in previous years. Many countries, mainly in Asia, are exploiting all renewable energy resources of hydropower, wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and tidal for power generation on a fast track. Currently, hydropower is the largest source of renewable energy. Interestingly, the country's entire power generation in Norway, Paraguay, and Albania is based on hydropower.
China is recognized as the undisputable global leader in renewable energy expansion, with 51% of the worldwide additions in renewable energy capacity. China has an installed cumulative capacity of 2,710,000-MW renewable energy as on June 30, 2023. Many other renewable energy projects across China are under construction at present. Pakistan has also adopted a policy framework for moving towards clean energy transition. Energy policy, known as the IGCEP 2022-31, is being implemented with focus on harnessing renewable energy resources during the plan period. Indeed, the prevalent energy crisis in Pakistan brings new opportunities for developing renewable energy.
Small hydropower is a key element of renewable energy, with promising prospects of contributing significantly to the energy mix. It serves as an element to increase access to electricity, rural electrification, and industrial energy supply to the SMEs. Pakistan has one of the largest irrigation canal networks in the world, with 45 canals and 12 interlink canals, mostly in the Punjab, which offer small hydropower potential, low-head but with high volume of water discharge, of more than 1,000-MW cost-effective power generation on canal falls and barrages. Many countries including the USA, the UK, India, Uzbekistan, Taiwan and others have given attention to promoting hydropower on irrigation canals.
These installations not only meet the electricity demands of isolated communities through off-grid installations but also for connecting to the grid. Historically, irrigation canals used for hydropower generation played a major role in the industrial revolution in the New England region of the USA in the 19th century. Driving this transition the country gained enormous economic benefits, also impacting the energy landscape, which was progressively followed by other nations. Small hydropower technologies are continuously being developed the world over, and now pre-designed modular systems are available that allow flexible and quick installations, within a few weeks.
These systems provide maximum efficiency, and optimized powerhouse dimensions. Making use of existing canals, the installation of electro-mechanical equipment will not disturb the natural environment, and no civil works are involved, and thus no land acquisition is required for the project. Existing infrastructure at canal sites is utilized instead of developing new sites. Such small or mini or micro hydropower projects thus entail lower investment cost and simple operation & maintenance of plant machinery. Other advantages include consistent water flow, relatively no environmental impact, and socioeconomic benefits to the isolated areas.
Since many decades, WAPDA is satisfactory operating five small and mini hydropower plants on irrigation canals in the Punjab, such as Rasul powerhouse of 22.00-MW installed capacity and Shadiwal of 13.60-MW, both on Upper Jhelum Canal, Chichoki Malian of 13.20-MW and Nandipur of 13.80-MW, both on Upper Chenab Canal, and 1.10-MW Renala powerhouse located on Lower Bari Doab Canal. For many years, the Punjab government is mandated to harness the power of water flowing in irrigation canals to generate electricity.
Punjab Power Development Co (Government of the Punjab) is operating four small and mini hydropower plants connected to the national grid. These are Marala hydropower plant of 7.64-MW installed capacity located on Upper Chenab Canal (Marala Barrage) near Sialkot, Pakpattan of 2.82-MW on Pakpattan Canal, Chianwali of 5.38-MW on Upper Chenab Canal near Gujranwala, and Deg Outfall powerhouse of 4.04-MW, also on Upper Chenab Canal near Sheikhupura. All these hydropower projects, which are based on Chinese technology, were financed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
There are a number of small and mini hydropower units being developed in the private sector too, with cumulative installed capacity of over 110-MW. These independent power producers (IPPs) will either be connected to the national grid or serve as stand-alone installations supplying electricity to the SMEs located in the area. Currently, thirteen grid-connected IPPs of total installed capacity 96.76-MW are at different stages of development. These include Alka Hydropower Project (HPP), Jhang Branch Canal, Hafizabad (1.80-MW), Gugera HPP, Upper Gugera Branch Canal, Nanka (3.60-MW), Mandi Baha-ud-din HPP, Lower Chenab Canal, Gujranwala (3.30-MW), and Khokhra Hydropower Project, Gujrat Branch Canal, Gujrat (2.80-MW).
Other grid-connected projects are Rasul HPP, Rasul Barrage, Mandi Baha-ud-din (18.00-MW), Kasur Hydropower Project, BRBD Link Canal, Kasur (2.54-MW), Mehar HPP, BS Link-I Canal, (10.49-MW), C.J. HPP, CJ Link Canal, District Khushab (25.00-MW), Khanewal HPP, LBDC, Khanewal (1.00-MW), D.G. Khan Link–III HPP, DG Khan Canal, D.G. Khan (4.63-MW), Chichawatni HPP, LBDC, Sahiwal (1.60-MW), Murree HPP, Kanarkas Nallah, District Murree (12.00-MW), and Soan HPP, Soan River, District Chakwal (10.00-MW). Installation of these hydropower plants, some of which are promoted by well-known industrial groups like Engro, Packages, and Saigols, will result in additional job opportunities for the locals.
In addition, there are five captive mode IPPs of cumulative capacity 14.30-MW including Ravi HPP, Lower Bari Doab Canal, Sahiwal (4.60-MW), LCC HPP, Lower Chenab Canal, Gujranwala (7.55-MW), Khanaan HPP on Lower Gugera Branch Canal (1.10-MW), Burala Branch Canal HPP (0.75-MW), and Data HPP, District Jhang (0.30-MW). A World Bank Report conducted in 2014 had identified 68 feasible sites for developing hydropower projects on canals in captive mode ranging from 2.00-MW to 0.50-MW capacity each. Work on other schemes, though slow, is at various stages of planning or execution. Letter of Support (LOS) was issued in January this year for the developing Ravi hydropower project of 4.60-MW in Sahiwal to supply electricity to steel-melting furnaces located in the area.
The process of developing small and mini hydropower projects on irrigation canals remained stalled for long, and has picked up speed only in recent years. There is a strong need to ensure that all these projects could achieve commercial operations as scheduled. At the same time the Punjab government should launch a program to accelerate development of remaining projects, pursuant to the Punjab Power Policy in vogue. It is also important that modern technologies for small hydropower units on canals be employed in future. There is an untapped potential of some 700-MW hydropower at 789 identified sites.
The writer is retired chairman of the State Engineering Corporation