Supporting the transition to renewable energy in the Himalayas 

Hydropower is rapidly expanding in the Himalayan region of South Asia, with the International Energy Agency projecting that India’s installed hydropower will more than double between 2021 and 2050. However, conventional hydropower development causes major negative environmental and social impacts such as deforestation and forced resettlement of riverine communities. 

Pumped Storage Hydropower is a type of hydroelectric energy storage and acts similarly to a giant battery to store and release power. In essence, it is a configuration of two water reservoirs at different elevations that can generate power as water is moved down from one to the other passing through a turbine.  

Pumped Storage Hydropower is suitable for off-river development and, when well sited and developed, has minimal negative social or environmental impacts. It is also an off-the-shelf, low-cost, low-environmental-impact energy storage technology that is not constrained by raw material availability. 

Supported by AWP, the Australian National University (ANU) is partnering with local organisations and consultants in Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim State in India to support transition to 100% renewable electricity grids and accelerate the transition to zero or low carbon electricity grids in the region. 

The Himalayan region is highly suitable for Pumped Storage Hydropower development, with geographic surveys identifying many potential off-river sites. Countries like Nepal have previously been constrained in hydropower development because of a backlash against the damming of rivers and flooding of villages and agricultural lands. Pumped Storage Hydropower resolves this issue because the best sites are located off-river. 

While a full transition to zero or low carbon electricity grids in the Himalayan region will be driven by solar and wind based electricity generation, these options are weather-dependent meaning electrical energy storage is required.  

Pumped Storage Hydropower is generally the most attractive electrical energy storage technology for large-scale applications because it is smaller in scale than conventional hydropower, and off-river systems tend to have relatively reduced environmental and social impacts. In some cases, such as where decommissioned mines are re-purposed, environmental and social impacts can be positive due to remedying pre-existing issues.  

Example of Pumped Storage Hydropower in the High Tatra Mountains, bordering Slovakia and Poland (Image: Adobe Stock)

Our in-country partners in Nepal, Interdisciplinary Analysts, are an NGO with a strong focus on water and energy issues, with political economist and water energy nexus expert Dr Dipak Gyawali, and social and political scientist and monitoring expert Dr Sudhindra Sharma advising on the project.  

Both Dr Gyawali and Dr Sharma have argued for the opportunity to develop Pumped Storage Hydropower in the region, noting that there, “is a growing realisation in Nepal of the need to develop seasonal storage power projects to fulfill the country’s need for peak load demand especially in the dry non-monsoon months and to balance its system of electricity generation.” 

The project between ANU and in-country partners aims to not only enhance energy security in the region, but will support the local construction industry, and benefit industry and businesses in the region. This is particularly the case in Bhutan, where many applications for electricity connections from power intensive industries are refused because of a lack of secure electricity supply in the country.  

The final project output will include recommendations for context-specific guidelines for Pumped Storage Hydropower development to ensure that this technology can be developed in a socially and environmentally sustainable way.  

Following this, AWP and partners hope to work further with governments and other key stakeholders in the region to develop guidelines and policies based on the project recommendations. 

Featured image: Example of a Pumped Storage Hydropower plant in the Czech Republic, Europe (Image: Adobe Stock)
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