India’s insatiable power appetite to keep coal relevant for decades: GE Power India MD
The share of coal in India’s power generation will fall from 74% to about 54% by 2030, but the exponential growth in the size of the country’s power market would mean that the sector would still be consuming more coal 10 years from now than at present, Prashant Jain, managing director of GE Power India Ltd., told S&P Global Commodity Insights.
In absolute terms, electricity generation from coal will be higher than present levels by 2030. The incremental demand growth will be met by renewable energy, but existing coal-fired assets will have to continue to support the grid,” Jain said in an interview
He added that for meaningful decarbonization of the energy sector, decarbonization of coal-fired power plants is necessary.
“This may sound counter-intuitive, but this is the reality that we are facing. Investments are needed to make power plants more efficient. The rising share of renewable energy also means coal-fired plants will need to be more flexible and ramp up or ramp down generation at a much faster rate,” he added.
Commenting on the issue of how coal-fired plants could contribute to lower emissions and what steps might be needed, Jain said there are largely three main kinds of emissions from power plants, SOx (sulfur oxides), NOx (nitrogen oxides) and particulate matters.
Flue gas desulfurizer (FGD) systems can tackle SOx emissions while electrostatic precipitators can address particulate matter emissions issues. Combustion modification and selective catalytic reduction can reduce NOx emissions, he said.
Technology can cut costs, usage
He added that there are currently around 50 GW of new coal-fired plants, while 150 GW of them were older units that are not the most efficient. Currently, various grades of coal are used in many plants that are not in line with the initial operating parameters on which these units were designed.
“It means that now there are unaccounted losses and issues in the boiler, which leads to concerns of reliability. Moreover, there is the potential to improve operational efficiencies of coal-fired units. In our estimate, modernization of these units can lead to a reduction in roughly 80 million mt coal per year usage and cut wholesale tariffs by Indian Rupee 0.15 per unit,” Jain added.
According to the latest information from the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission, the average power purchase cost was around Rupee 3.85 per unit in financial year 2020-21 (April-March).
GE recently modernized a 200-MW unit at the 1,350-MW Ukai power station in Gujarat using its latest technology.
“Final tests at the Ukai plant demonstrated more efficient operations that helped the plant reduce its coal consumption by over 140,000 mt per year. It also reduced CO2 emissions by 180,000 mt per year, which is equivalent to 162,000 Indian cars being taken off the road,” he added.
Jain said that expenses significantly rising for power plants as they import expensive coal amid supply shortages would not deter them from investing in modernizing and upgrading units.
“The current crisis is temporary and the present price levels are not sustainable. Inquiries for plant upgradation are coming up. I do see pockets of demand where customers want their turbines to generate more with reliability. They are getting the confidence that the demand for coal-fired power is not going away,” he added.
Commenting on the government’s ambition to gasify 100 million mt of coal by 2030, Jain said a few pilot projects had started.
“I do see tenders and inquiries on these and I see policy moving on the directions for setting up the projects. As a decarbonization strategy for the next 30-50 years, technologies such as coal gasification and carbon capture will play important roles,” he said.
GE Power’s vision for India
Highlighting GE Power’s vision for contributing to India’s energy transition process, Jain said the company is executing around 27 GW of emissions control projects, while upgrading many electrostatic precipitators to reduce particulate emissions for both industrial customers and utility customers.
“We are also implementing NOx emission technology projects in the country to bring down overall emissions. We have made a huge impact in terms of emissions-reduction, and we would like to continue to make that impact in the next 10 years so that you have guilt-free coal power,” Jain said.
He added that the company was involved in many projects aimed at upgrading existing power plants.
The company also has a joint venture with NTPC — called NTPC GE Power Services Ltd. — through which it was diversifying into additional areas of energy.
“We have recently signed a memorandum of engagement with Kenya to work on floating solar plants, leveraging on the experience of NTPC and GE in NGSL,” Jain said.
“We are also doing operations and maintenance of coal-fired power plants in NGSL, which is a perfect combination of best-in-class operations and maintenance from NTPC and the technology knowhow from GE,” he added.