Skip to main content

India’s hydroelectricity output fell at the steepest pace in at least 38 years during the year ended March 31, a Reuters analysis of government data showed, as erratic rainfall forced further dependence on coal-fired power amid higher demand.

The 16.3 per cent drop in generation from the country’s biggest clean energy source coincided with the share of renewables in power generation sliding for the first time since Prime Minister Narendra Modi made commitments to boost solar and wind capacity at the United Nations climate talks at Paris in 2015.

Renewables accounted for 11.7 per cent of India’s power output in the year that ended in March, down from 11.8 per cent a year earlier, a Reuters analysis of daily load despatch data from the federal grid regulator Grid-India showed.

India is the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter, and the government often points to lower per-capita emissions compared with developed countries to defend rising coal use.

A five-year low in reservoir levels means hydro output will likely remain low during the hottest months of April-June, experts say, potentially boosting dependence on coal during a period of high demand before the monsoon starts in June.

K. J. Ramesh, former chief of the Indian Meteorological Department, said there is increased chance of high rainfall during the annual monsoon this year, but any impact on hydropower output would not be visible before July.

“When hydro increases due to good rainfall, it should be used to reduce dependence on thermal,” he said, adding that erratic rainfall means India should not count on hydro as a reliable power source in the future.

Hydro’s share in India’s total power output fell to a record low of 8.3 per cent during the fiscal year ended March 31, Grid-India data showed, compared with an average of 12.3 per cent in the 10 years through 2020.

The share of hydropower has steadily declined in recent years amid a slowdown in addition of new capacity, with other sources including coal, solar and wind gaining share.

The lightest rainfall since 2018 meant reduced water levels in reservoirs, pushing annual hydro generation to a five-year low of 146 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh).

Meanwhile, power generation from coal and lignite in 2023/24 rose 13.9 per cent, outpacing the 9.7 per cent increase in renewable sources’ output, data from the grid regulator showed. Total power generation rose 10.3 per cent in 2023/24, Grid-India data showed.

India missed a 2022 target to install 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy, and remains 38.4 GW short of that goal, with Grid-India data showing India’s dependence on fossil fuel for power hit a five-year high of 77.2 per cent in 2023/24.

India’s addition of renewables slowed to a five-year low in 2023.

Globally, hydropower output fell for only the fourth time since 2000 due to lower rainfall and warmer temperature brought about by the El Nino weather pattern, according to energy think tank Ember. Hydro output in India, the sixth-biggest hydropower producer, fell nearly seven times faster than the global average, Ember data showed.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe