By K K Jain

10th July 2012 11:56 PM

India is facing power deficiency for decades and the situation is likely to continue for quite some time. With India’s GDP growth keeping above 6-8 per cent, the power requirement is also slated to go up at the same rate. There is a direct correlation between the growth in the power requirement and the GDP growth rate.

As per the data published by CEA (April 2012) our current installed power generation capacity is 2,01,637 MW, of which 1,13,782 MW is thermal coal, 18,381 MW is thermal gas, 1,199 MW is diesel, 4,780 MW is nuclear, 38,990 MW is hydro and 24,503 MW is through renewable sources. The renewable sources include the installed capacity for small hydro plants as well (3,000 MW).

To work out the technologies to be used to meet the growing power needs, we need to see the investment required to create 1 MW capacity for each of technology, the cost and availability of fuel and the risk and hazards for these technology options. We would also need to see the carbon footprint left by each technology.

We have the technology readily available for coal-based thermal power plants. However the availability of coal is becoming a constraint. The NTPC has to import coal to meet part of the coal requirement. Besides, Indian coal has high ash content and hence has lower calorific value and results in huge ash handling requirement. Coal-based plants costs only around `5.5 crore/MW and cost of coal comes to around Rs 1.2-1.5 per unit with Indian coal and much higher for imported coal. Coal-based plants leave a carbon footprint of around 2.2 kg/unit.

Gas-based thermal plants entirely depend upon the availability of gas and it is comparatively cleaner fuel, as it results in 60 per cent less carbon emission per unit of electricity generated. The investment required per MW capacity is also the lowest at around `4 crore/MW. The cost of gas per unit of electricity depends upon the price of the gas. At $ 4.2/mmbtu being paid to Reliance the cost of gas comes to around Rs 1.35/unit. Seeing the benefits of gas, we need to line up gas from the normal gas fields, shale formations, CBM blocks or contract for imports. Japan has signed up long term gas import contracts after it has closed down its nuclear power plants after the Fukushima disaster.

Hydel power has been the second largest source of power. We have an installed base of around 39,000 MW for hydel capacity, while the total potential for hydel power is around 1,45,000 MW. This indicates less than 30 per cent of our hydel potential is exploited. Various hydel projects are stuck up for clearances from environment, forest departments and for issues of resettlement of displaced population. It requires an investment of around `7 crore/MW and the fuel cost is nil. Hydel plants also get a carbon credit of around Rs 1 per unit. We also have a potential of around 15,000 MW for micro hydel projects of which only 3,000 MW has been harnessed so far.

Hydel plants also have advantage of being able to take load changes quickly. Due to this reason, the percentage provided for hydel power should preferably be more than 35 per cent. Our share of hydel power is only 19.5 per cent.

India has a wind power potential of around 48,000 MW and has a current installed base of around 10,500 MW. It requires around `6-7 crore/MW investment for creating a wind farm. Here again the cost of fuel is nil and there is a carbon credit of around `1/unit. However, wind turbines have a load factor of only around 30-35 per cent due to varying wind velocities. Its intermittent nature also raises issues of storage.

General Electric Company has pioneered concept of hybrid farms in which both wind turbines and the solar panels are installed. This ensures more steady power during the day time and minimum power from the wind turbines in night. Germany is pioneering off-shore installation of wind turbines to bridge the gap left by the closer of nuclear power plants.

Solar power is another source of energy, which is abundant, in-exhaustible and absolutely clean. The world’s total power requirement is around 20 terrawatts while the solar influx coming on the planet earth is 1,78,000 terrawatts. India’s total power needs are only 0.25 terrawatts. The solar photovoltaic cell is one of the promising methods of converting solar influx into electricity. In 1970 the cost of solar cells was $ 100/watt and the price of crude was around $ 1.5/barrel. Today, the cost of solar cells has dropped to $ 1.5/watt and crude has gone up to $ 100/barrel. These trends are likely to continue and by 2020 the cost of solar cells may drop to $ 0.5/watt and the crude would have gone up to $ 200/barrel. At this time, solar electricity would be cheaper than oil, gas, coal or nuclear power. New thin film technologies, like Cadmium Telluride and Copper-Indium-Gallium-di-Selenide (CIGS) are evolving to drive down the costs further.

India has good sunshine for more than 300 days, resulting in 1 KW solar panel giving an output of 1,800 units/year, as compared to only 850 units/year in Europe.

Intensive research is also going on to store electricity cheaply and efficiently, because all renewable sources are intermittent. Newly evolved liquid metal batteries give potential to make storage batteries in MW capacities.

Nuclear power is also a serious contender for reliable source of power. However, the investment required for creating nuclear power plant is around Rs15 crore/MW. This becomes viable only if the interest rates are lower like in Japan, Europe or the US. At 12-15 per cent interest in India, nuclear power ceases to be cost-effective. Our plan to add 40,000 MW of nuclear power in coming decade, would result in financial damage of Rs 3,00,000 crore. Besides, there would be risk of radiation leaks and storage of spent fuel. Nuclear plants also have longest lead time to build.

We need to follow a strategy of running gas and thermal power plants efficiently and making an all-out effort for 100 per cent utilisation of our hydel and wind potential. We also need to put in R&D efforts for creating readiness for solar technologies so that we can utilise it effectively in future. The major sources of electrical power in the future are likely to be hydel, wind and solar.

Human civilisation’s progress started with using muscle (man and animal) as source of power. Then came energy from wood, followed by fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas that could be transformed to electricity. Now is time to plan for a major shift and get more power from renewable sources. We need to reinvent fire.

K K Jain is a professor at IBS, Mumbai. E-mail: [email protected]