Tackling Climate Change – Civil Service Essay 6

A ‘doable’ plan to meet our ‘clean’ energy needs and conform to Climate Change demands

The plan envisages a firm commitment to climate change mitigation by optimising the country’s resources with indigenous technology

Energy security is achieved when we have enough energy available to meet our needs at affordable rates. The path to total energy security in India is full of challenges. First, the population of 1.3 billion is very large, and its aggregate demand is huge. Second, its economy grows in a relatively fast rate, thus continuously increasing its energy needs. To maintain the growth rate, there will be the need to increase our energy production year after year for many years to come. What complicates the matter for India is its excessive dependence on coal for thermal power, at a time when the international clamour to cut back carbon emission is growing louder and louder. India can ill-afford to ignore the global pressure to limit green house gases, especially when it stands third in the list of top polluting countries.

The prospects for the future..

In the last few years, the thermal power generation capacity of the country registered a quantum jump to reach an impressive 192 MW in 2017, up from 94 MW in 2011. This impressive increase helped the government to provide 37% higher power per capita. The common people, farmers, factories and businesses benefited from the additional thermal power generation. Also, power cuts (load shedding). The shortage during peak hours remained low at just 1.7% down from a high of 9.8% in 2011.

The relatively comfortable power supply position is not going to last long. As India’s GDP grows, its energy need will soar. The shortage between demand and generation could worsen over a period of time. At present, the per capita consumption of power in India is just one-third of the global average. So, the need to ramp up power generation capacity in the country is going to be very acute in the future.

Thermal plants will be the bedrock of India’s power generation system

Coal is the mainstay of India’s thermal power programme. India has an abundance of coal. Natural gas is not an option for India as the country doesn’t have enough of it. Importing it from Iran and other central Asian countries over land through pipeline is fraught as Pakistan could play havoc with the network if hostilities between the two neighbours could deepen in future. In the eastern side, Bangladesh neither wants to sell its gas to India, nor is very helpful in permitting pipelines from gas-rich Myanmar to pass through it.

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Thermal Power Plants contributed 71% of the electricity generated in India during 2020-21. However, the capacity utilization of thermal power plants stood at a meager 55% of their total installed capacity of 382 GW. Coal is thus central to India’s ongoing efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7), which is “to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”.

Renewable energy

While variable renewable energy (VRE) sources (primarily wind and solar) account for 24.7% of the total installed generation capacity, as of March 2021, they contributed 10.7% of the electricity generated by the utilities during FY 2020-21. Unfortunately for India, the demand for electric power remained flat for most parts of 2021-22. This created unforeseen problems for the grid managers. Policy-wise, the producers of solar and wind power get priority, and the grids had to buy the power the VRE units generated. The ramp-up of VRE generation capacity without commensurate growth in electricity demand resulted in lower capacity utilisation of TPPs. As per existing arrangements, the fixed costs of the Thermal Power Plants (TPPs) must be paid by the distribution companies (DISCOMs), who passed it to the consumers. It created resentment among the consumers against the DISCOMS and the government.

It’s pertinent here to mention that the rapid growth of VRE (solar and wind power) sources in India has been largely aided by policy measures as well as financial incentives whose cost is ultimately borne by the consumer. Paradoxically, the current level of VRE in the national power grid is increasing the cost of power procurement for DISCOMs, leading to tariff increases for electricity consumers. It’s a piquant situation for power generation experts in the country. When demand remains flat, the more the VRE sector generates, the lesser is the draw of power from the TPPS. Lesser capital utilization of TPPs might be good for environmentalists, but is bad for the consumers who get higher power bills.
The Forum of Regulators has estimated the total additional burden of grid integration of VRE sources includes ₹1.11 of balancing cost and ₹1.02 of stranded capacity cost, totaling ₹2.13 per unit.

With COP-26, and the chorus for decreasing carbon emission, the task before the power sector planners of India is to implement a plan to increase energy efficiency and reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and airborne pollutants from TPPs without making power unaffordable to industries that need low-cost 24×7 power to compete in the global market.

An out-of-the-box solution offered by experts..

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Two eminent professors (A.V. Krishnan and R. Srikanth are Visiting Professor and Professor, respectively, at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru) have developed a time-bound transition plan for India’s power sector involving the progressive retirement (scrapping) of 36 GW of installed generation capacity in 211 TPPs(unit size 210 MW and below). The selection of old plants for scrapping will be based on key performance parameters such as efficiency, specific coal consumption, technological obsolescence, and age. The resulting shortfall in baseload electricity generation can be made up by increasing the utilisation of existing High-Efficiency-Low-Emission (HELE) TPPs that are currently kept under-utilised in order to accommodate VRE suppliers offering their power. Apart from this, the 47 government-owned TPPs
with total generation capacity of 31.6 GW will be commissioned on priority basis. A whopping ₹1,77,742 crore have been invested by government utilities in the construction of these modern plants. These TPPs have already signed power purchase agreements with the respective DISCOMs. When these modern plants start selling their power to the DISCOMS, the pricing will be determined by the two-part tariff policy — their fixed costs being borne by power consumers irrespective of their usage. So, one can easily see the perils of underutilizing these newly-commissioned TPPs. To accommodate the VRE (solar and wind plants), the modern HELE TPPs will be run in low gear, and the consumers will be charged more, as a result. Quite obviously, the policy is not in the interest of the country. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) is also constructing 11 nuclear power plants with a total generation capacity of 8,700 MW that will supply 24×7 power without any CO2 emissions.

Capacity increase

With the implementation of the plan to scrap all obsolete plants and make full use of the newly installed modern High Energy Low Emission (HELE) Thermal Power Plants (TPPs), the total installed capacity of TPPs operated by thermal power plants in the country will increase from the current level of 209 GW (as of September 2021) to 220 GW by FY 2029-30. The plants that are 25 years or so old are not only highly polluting, but also expensive to maintain. Extending their life and modernising them needs substantial capital outlay. Retrofitting them with flue gas desulphurisation plants (FGDs) is an expensive process. If the old plants are renovated, FGDs will have to be procured and installed. The combined thermal (220 GW) and nuclear (15 GW) capacity of 235 GW can, thus, meet the baseload requirement (80% of peak demand) during the evening peak in FY 2029-30 even without spending money on expensive battery storage. Ian such a scenario, absorbing the power offered by the VRE suppliers into the national grid will not create the type of problem it is creating now. Additionally, the HLEE TPPs are flexible in design and their capacity can be ramped up easily if the need so arises. This solution will keep the VRE companies and the consumers happy as they will get steady power supply at affordable rates.

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As per this plan to abandon the old plants and make full use of the modern HLEE TPPs,, India’s power generation from TPPs is expected to reduce from the FY 2020-21 level of 71% to 57% of the total electrical energy generation envisaged for FY 2029-30. Further, the share of HELE TPPs in the total TPP generation capacity will increase from the FY 2018-19 level of 25% to 44% in FY 2029-30. More importantly, the share of inefficient, highly polluting TPPs in the total TPP generation capacity will reduce from 49% (FY 2018-19 level) of 46% to a mere4%. Consequently, total CO2 emissions from the power sector will go down by 57 Mt even as coal-fired electricity generation increases by 21% by 2029-30. This will be music to the ears of climate watchers globally.

In a nutshell

  1. HELE TPPs minimise emissions of particulate matter (PM), SO2, and NO2.
  2. There will be much less need for additional Capital Expenditure (Capex) year after year.
  3. For each unit of power generated, we will burn lesser amount of coal, and use lesser quantities of water.
  4. Through such jump in efficiency, power cost to the consumer can be kept low.
  5. Since the new TPPs will be fitted with high-efficiency electrostatic precipitators, as much as 99.9% of the particle matters (PM)will be arrested and the air around the plants will remain cleaner.

When this plan is implemented, the global community will look at India with appreciation and respect, rather than as a spoiler of the global push to rein in climate change.


Acronyms used in this write-up

SDG7.. Sustainable Development Goal 7
HLEE.. High Energy Low Emission
TPP.. Thermal Power Plants
PM .. Particle matter
PM10 : inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 10 micrometers and smaller; and
PM2.5 : fine inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers and smaller.
How small is 2.5 micrometers? Think about a single hair from your head. The average human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter – making it 30 times larger than the largest fine particle.

FGD .. Flue Gas Desulfurization

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