Apart from measures to improve generation it would make sense to also whole-heartedly adopt the adage that energy saved is energy generated, says R Srinivasan.
Apower department statement said that the electricity generation target for 2016-17 was fixed as 1,178 BU, a growth of around 6.38 per cent over actual generation of 201516. As per Central Electricity Authority (CEA), electricity generation from thermal, hydro, nuclear and import from Bhutan grew by 4.7 per cent to 1,159.83 billion units (BU) in 2016-17 as compared to 1,107.82 BU generated in the previous year. A majority of our power plants depend on coal since India has one of the largest coal reserves in the world. So it plays a vital role in ramping up generation. As per Planning Commission estimates, the country’s energy supply needs to grow at 6.5 per cent annually if the nation has to achieve annual economic growth of nine per cent during the current plan period from 2012-17. Add to this the fact that of the 1.4 billion people in the world with no access to electricity, India accounts for around 300 million people in rural India who have no access to electricity.
As per a recent report ‘Boom and Bust’, released by Sierra Club, Greenpeace and Coalswarm, from January 2016 to January 2017, development of coal-fired power capacity fell around the world. In China and India alone, construction activities that would add 68 GW - over a fifth of India’s total installed capacity - of additional coal capacity were frozen across 100 project sites, 13 of them in India. The Ministry of Power said that in India, as of February 2017, at least 15 coal-based thermal power projects with an aggregate capacity of 18,420 MW were stalled due to financial reasons. To revive some struggling power projects with a cumulative capacity of some 30 GW under a new mega power policy in March 2017 the Cabinet provided support of about Rs 10,000 crore to the sector, in addition to incentives to relieve the burden of stressed assets on banks, estimated at Rs 1.5 lakh crore.
But India does not plan to expand its coal-fired capacity during 2017-22, according to the Draft National Electricity Plan proposed in December 2016 by the Central Electricity Authority based on the presumption that non-fossil fuel capacity addition will continue as targeted - 4.3 GW of gas-fired plants, 15 GW of hydroelectric plants, 2.8 GW of nuclear installations and 115 GW of various renewable sources, which would come online during 2017-22.
In all these years the shortage of domestic coal production led to a need for imports, which increased steadily primarily for electricity generation. In 2011, about 95 million tonnes of coal were imported, accounting for about 15% of the country’s coal demand. From the energy security perspective too, India should rely primarily on domestic coal and reduce the share of imports (which have been increasing especially in the last two decades) in the Indian energy supply mix. Already, use of imported coal is costing the country. In 2014-15, coal imports were 212 million tonnes (MT) and cost over Rs 1 lakh crore -- up more than five times from 38.5 MT in 2005-06, due largely to poor quality of domestic coal, lack of competition among producers, and insufficient investments. So the government said that it is aiming to bring down to ‘zero’ thermal coal imports of power PSUs like NTPC in the current fiscal, to reduce the country’s import bill by around Rs 17,000 crore. Similarly India’s production of Coal Bed Methane (CBM), a clean energy source extracted from coal seams, grew more than 44 per cent last financial year to around 565 million standard cubic metres (MMSCM) as compared to 393 MMSCM in 2015-2016 – giving a major boost to the government’s efforts to cut down India’s import dependence for energy supply.
In a related thermal power development, as per reports, nearly half of the country’s thermal power plants—are over 25 years old and a large number of them are fast approaching 40, which is considered the end of their useful life span. Experts opined that the generation capabilities of a thermal power plant reduce by about 40% after 25 years and added that these old thermal power plants offer a new business opportunity in dismantling. In this regard, Power Minister Piyush Goyal said that companies should focus on replacement of old plants with energyefficient technologies. On a separate occasion he said that as much as 39,710 MW capacity based on supercritical technology has already been added and 48,060 MW of super-critical power generation is in the pipeline. The design efficiency of supercritical units is about 5 per cent higher than typical 500 MW sub-critical units and these (supercritical) units are likely to have correspondingly lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions in ambient air. Of 29 thermal stations with a total installed capacity of 13,440.5 MW, nine projects with an installed capacity of 3608.5 MW have already been commissioned till 31 October 2016. Also, in-principle clearance has been given to replace 11,000 MW of thermal plants, older than 25 years, with energy efficient super-critical plants in about five years, at an investment of around Rs 50,000 crores.
India, despite environmental concerns, may continue to depend on coal to provide power since about 300 million people in rural areas still lack access to electricity. Also in view of the cost factor as compared to renewable energy, coal may continue to remain the main source of electricity supply for India though its share in the electricity generation mix may gradually decrease.
The Power Minister, as per news reports, had said that despite the massive investments in renewable energy, India will also depend on coal especially for baseline needs to ensure power availability when other sources become unavailable. He added that if financing for newer plants are not available, developing countries will continue to run the old power plants.
While we look at the need for increased coalbased generation, we must not lose track of the impact of these plants on the environment since they are responsible for air pollution, cause climate change and emit the highest CO2 emission - As per an International Energy Agency (IEA) report, India is the world’s third-largest emitter of carbon after US and China. Under the historic Paris Agreement to tackle climate change inked at the summit, India pledged to reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by 35 per cent by 2030 and that 40 per cent of its cumulative electric installed capacity would be from non-fossil fuel based energy resources. The agreement will come into force in 2020.
So some measures that could be adopted apart from supercritical power plants are investment in R&D for coal extraction, conversion and coalbased power technologies to improve the efficiency and performance of coal based generation, carbon capture and storage and improving the thermal efficiency of coal-fired power stations to reduce CO2 emissions (A one percentage point improvement in the efficiency of a conventional pulverised coal combustion plant results in a 2-3% reduction in CO2 emissions) and adoption of cost-effective pollution control equipment.
The way ahead
Realising that replacing coal with renewable energy over a period of time may help deliver on climate agreements, deliver huge water savings and also generate millions of jobs in the RE sector, the government has set an ambitious target to generate 175 GW by 2022 from renewable sources, including 100 GW from solar, 60 GW from wind, 10 GW from biomass and 5 GW from small hydroelectric (SHP) projects.
Power and Coal Minister Piyush Goyal had said that the solar programme will not only ensure energy security of our country but also provide power to the last person at the bottom of the pyramid in keeping with the government’s 24x7 power for all plan.
In this context, according to NITI Aayog, investing in renewable energy (RE) on the other hand brings environmental benefits like reduced pollution while creating employment opportunities. Therefore, RE has the potential to ensure energy security, energy access and sustainability.
Also, according to a Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) study, the Indian Railways could draw up to 25% of its power needs from renewables and achieve the 5 GW solar target by 2025. Indian Railways is also planning to set up 500 MW of solar generation capacity that will meet the energy needs of over 8,000 stations across the country going forward. Analysts said that the plan has the potential to cut down the railways’ energy bill by 40 per cent.
- As per estimates, the solar water pumping systems market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 18.7% during FY 2017-22. Currently, 26 million agricultural pumps are installed in India of which nearly 7 million pumps are diesel based and remaining are grid connected. However, due to unreliable grid supply and increasing diesel prices, solar water pumping system offers immense opportunities to replace conventional pumps. - Under the government’s Street Lighting National Programme (SLNP), 21 lakh conventional street lights have been replaced with LEDs, resulting in annual energy savings of 295 million unit and reduction of 2.3 lakh tonnes of CO2 annually. Under the SLNP, the govt intends to replace 1.34 crore conventional street lights.
So a twin-edged measure to improve power generation along with adoption of energy efficient technologies, including super and ultra supercritical, would go a long way in ensuring the nation’s trajectory towards an energy revolution. Apart from measures to improve generation it would make sense to also whole-heartedly adopt the adage that energy saved is energy generated.