Green energy targets clear in mind, but is India technology-ready?

India's green energy targets for the next few years may be clear and crisp, but the country may need to focus more on related technologies to achieve its environment-friendly goals.

On one side, it is investing in the research and development of a superior technology for coal-based power generation results of which have been much delayed; on the other, major policies for battery charging and energy storage is still lacking.

In 2011, the government shared plans to invest in the Advanced Ultra Super Critical (AUSC) Technology for Thermal Power and the expectation was to have its first plant ready in 2017. However, it was only in August 2016, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved a proposal of R&D project for development of Advanced Ultra Super Critical (AUSC) Technology for Thermal Power Plant with an estimated cost of Rs.1554 crore and a time cycle of two and a half years. State run BHEL and NTPC are working on this project. According to industry sources, most other countries seem to have given up on the technology due to various reasons including a bleak future for coal based power generation and high costs involved in generating electricity using such a technology. This also means India will have to develop this technology indigenously.

India as of December 2017, had an installed capacity of 192.97 Gigawatt (GW) of thermal power capacity. It is committed to make coal-based generation energy efficient under the Paris Climate agreement. AUSC technology involves bringing steam temperatures up to 700°C, while ultra super critical technology involves a temperature of 600°C, a higher steam temperature helps achieve better fuel efficiency.

“US has given up on this thermal power technology, because there is hardly any use of this technology anymore. India will need to use coal as a power generation source atleast for the next two to three decades. The difficulty India would face is not on the boiler technology, but that on the steam turbine as the companies that India sources the technology from for turbines is not working at the AUSC level. Japan was earlier looking at it, but not anymore,” said MS Unnikrishnan, managing director and chief executive officer for Thermax. In addition, Unnikrishnan points out, India may benefit from this investment in research if we are able to achieve a result in the next two to three years time.

An email query sent to NTPC and BHEL on Monday remained unanswered.

The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) estimated that the country may not need any new thermal power capacity in the next ten years time. “For the next ten years, we have said we will not invest in a new coal plant. If within that period, energy storage technologies are put in place, we may not need more coal. I am not sure of the relevance of a conversation on AUSC, we will have to wait and watch,” said Amarthaluru Subba Rao, executive director – Finance and Strategy with CLP India. Subba Rao cautions India’s current thermal capacity also faces a modernization challenge. “To modernize the existing plants to meet the new emissions norms itself is going to be a phenomenal journey and whether it will be possible to manage the cost structure. Perhaps the investments in AUSC R&D are a back –up plan if energy storage has not been developed ten years from now,” he added.

An efficient energy storage system will help balance the grid for anomalies in supply and demand. Energy storage systems, to some extent, can help weed out the unreliability of renewable energy sources like solar and wind, where power generated when the sun shines can be stored for later use during night or when cloudy. However, key policies to promote energy storage are the country is missing.

“We have seen how data storage has evolved; we will now see the same in the energy storage space. There are discussions on energy storage, but there are no clear policies. At this moment, commercial viability for energy storage does not exist,” Subbarao added. CLP, Subbarao added, is also investing on research for alternative energy solutions at a global level. Closer home, various corporate houses like Tata Power and JSW Energy have plans carved out for battery charging and energy storage. However, there may be more needed from the Government’s part.

At the Energy storage India (ESI) 2018 event on Thursday, Suresh Prabhu, Minister of Commerce & Industry said, “Energy storage can change the dynamics of energy profile of the world and thus energy storage is a critical component in global energy strategy. We should be the leaders, we should invest in R&D.”

Energy storage systems are key to ensure effective use of renewable energy sources in the country. India plans to have a total renewable energy capacity of 175 gigawatt by 2022. According to CEA data, India’s total renewable energy installed capacity as of September 2017 was at 60.15 GW, of which solar power is 14.7 GW and wind is 32.70 GW.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel