Quantification of run-of-river hydropower potential in the Upper Indus basin under climate change

Sanita Dhaubanjar*, Arthur F. Lutz, Wouter Julius Smolenaars, Sonu Khanal, Muhammad Khalid Jamil, Hester Biemans, Fulco Ludwig, Arun Bhakta Shrestha, Walter W. Immerzeel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Introduction: Despite ambitious plans to quadruple hydropower generation in the Indus basin, a quantitative assessment of the impact of climate change on hydropower availability in the basin is missing. To address this gap, we combine downscaled CMIP6 projections with the Hydropower Potential Exploration (HyPE) model to quantify future hydropower potential available in the upper Indus basin. Methods: HyPE uses a spatial cost-minimization framework to evaluate four classes of hydropower potential, namely theoretical, technical, financial and sustainable, considering various constraints on the siting and sizing of two run-of-river hydropower plant configurations. Results: Under future discharge projections, all classes of potential increase while subbasin changes align with the spatial patterns projected in hydro-climatology. Theoretical potential changes by 3.9–56 %, technical potential by −2.3–46.8 %, financial potential by −8.8–50.4 % and sustainable potential by −6.1–49.7 %. A small decline is observed in the northwestern subbasins where increase in potential is lower than in the southeast. In contrast, with increasing variability in the Indian Summer Monsoon in the future, the southeastern subbasins have the strongest increase in sustainable potential accompanied by higher increase in plant size, decrease in costs and higher variability. The southeastern Satluj subbasin is the hotspot where sustainable potential has the highest increase of up to 145 %. The northwestern Kabul subbasin has the highest decrease of up to −27 %. The Swat subbasin has the lowest variability in sustainable potential while the Jhelum and Indus main subbasins remain the subbasins with the cheapest potential into the future. The performance of future sustainable portfolios differ from the performance of historical portfolios by −11.1–39.9 %. Discussion: Hence, considering future climate in the present-day planning of hydropower will lead to improved performance under a majority of scenarios. The sufficiency of hydropower potential to fulfill energy security depends on future population growth. Energy availability is projected to decline in the northwest as population increases faster than hydropower potential. The per capita sustainable potential In the Kabul subbasin reduces to a third of the historical value. A socio-hydrological approach is necessary to address the complexity of achieving sustainable and equitable hydropower development in the Indus basin under such spatial mismatch between hydropower availability and energy demand in a resource-limited world.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1256249
Number of pages25
JournalFrontiers in Water
Publication statusPublished - 19 Dec 2023


  • climate change
  • energy justice
  • energy security
  • future hydropower potential
  • hydropower development
  • resource potential
  • SDG 7
  • sustainable development


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