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Energy Needs a Tech Push

India, like any developing country, cannot overlook the pivotal role of the power sector in fuelling its overall development.
Tomohiko Okada | Print Edition: January 15, 2017
Energy Needs a Tech Push

India, like any developing country, cannot overlook the pivotal role of the power sector in fuelling its overall development. All sectors require a constant and reliable supply of electricity for the economy to function and grow. The power sector in India has witnessed admirable improvements over the past few years across the entire value chain, from adding power generation capacity to increasing in transmission lines and fuel supply - coal production growth has been the highest in over two decades.

Tomohiko Okada, Managing Director, Toshiba India, says India’s energy future lies in smarter technology for both production and distribution

The government's initiatives and policies have turned over a new leaf and for the first time in its history, India has declared that it will not have a power deficit. Alongside the addition of the highest ever conventional power capacity of 46,453 MW during the past two years, the government is also pushing to augment renewable energy with an aim to add 175,000 MW by 2022. The challenge has been to create a sustained power generation and distribution mechanism in the country such that adequate, affordable and consistent electric supply can be made available to all. To achieve this, India must also focus on revamping and improving its existing power capacity in order to boost efficiency. Efficiency can be measured at three levels - economic, operational and energy efficiency.

Efficiency levels can vary across different types of thermal power plants. Setting up new power plants with supercritical and ultra-supercritical technology, instead of sub-critical technology, can help increase the efficiency of the plant from the earlier 36 per cent to 42 per cent. The plants should be designed to utilise imported technologies, which could well be domestically manufactured. Secondly, of the total electricity produced by the plant, the auxiliary power consumption of the plant is still more than 10 per cent. One of the ways to improve the efficiency of an existing thermal power plant is by reducing this consumption by installing latest technology and infrastructure. Thirdly, the maintenance time and volume need to be cut down.

Although there are global and national projects in research and development towards improving the efficiency of coal-based thermal power plants, there are several limitations, both of commercial viability as well as natural limitations imposed by different geographical locations and conditions, the type of coal available - especially the sulphur content of the coal - the system's complexity, the large investment required, and concerns related to balancing performance and costs.

Coal is a reliable and cheap power source. However, low plant efficiency not only leads to burning of more coal in the plants, it also has a higher carbon footprint. Technologies such as Post Combustion Capture, which separates, captures, and sequesters carbon dioxide emissions from the flue gas of thermal power plants, can help curb the emission of gases that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. Using chemical absorbents that selectively capture CO2 in the flue gas at a certain condition in the absorber tower, and releasing it under a different condition in the stripper tower, CO2 can be continuously separated from the flue gas. Post Combustion Capture technology applies not only to coal-fired power plants but also to all other CO2 emitting plants, such as oil-fired, gas-fired, gas-combined cycle and biomass-fired plants. Such technology can be applied in newly built plants or retrofitted onto existing plants.

Promotion of energy conservation and increased use of renewable energy are the twin planks of a sustainable energy supply. In very remote areas where installing extensive grid is not feasible, power generation through renewable sources offers a viable solution for meeting the electricity needs of the local population. The various options for power generation through renewable sources are wind energy systems, solar photovoltaic systems, biomass gasifiers and small hydro-power systems, etc. In a country like India which lies near the equator, it is of utmost importance to develop technologies that are economically viable to harness the abundant solar energy. Together with that, more research into autonomous energy supply systems that utilise renewable energy is required. One such technology, H2One, is a reliable source as a back-up for industries and energy supply for off-grid communities. It is available in several varieties, including business continuity planning (BCP) models, remote island models, and business facility models. H2One integrates a photovoltaic power generation system with batteries for storing output power, a hydrogen-producing water electrolysis unit, a hydrogen storage alloy tank, and a hydrogen fuel cell unit that delivers a CO2-free, environment-friendly solution for hotels and other resort facilities. It is a stable storage solution for the short and long term which is easy to install and has no carbon emission.

While setting up a power plant in India and evaluating necessary technology and equipment suppliers, it is of utmost importance to find a fine balance between the initial cost and the long-term durability of the plant. It has been observed that there are companies which go for lower initial investment to break-even sooner, but in the longer run, partnering with a reliable and established power equipment manufacturer will eventually even out, due to the durability and stability of the products provided. India's energy landscape requires complete Engineering, Manufacturing, Procurement, Construction and Services (EMPCS) solutions for power plants under one roof. This will not only bring down the turnaround time, but also ensure compatibility of all systems operating within a grid.

While setting up a power plant in India and evaluating necessary technology and equipment suppliers, it is of utmost importance to find a fine balance between the initial cost and the long-term durability of the plant. Photo: Vivan Mehra

Likewise, there is a need to bring in newer forms of technological infrastructure such as smart grids that can fuse power supply and communication infrastructures. Smart grid uses power and communication networks to connect homes, offices, and factories to multiple distributed power providers (small-scale power generators) such as solar, wind, fuel cells, and facilities that store generated power. Large-scale battery energy storage systems, that can charge and discharge electricity in response to the generation volume from renewable energy sources, can make power grid operations more stable and environment-friendly. Advanced Lithium-Titanate batteries like SCiB are very good for large-scale battery energy storage systems because of their excellent features such as exceptional safety, high input and output performance, and a long life that minimises the need for disposal or replacement.

Like the developed nations, India, too, needs to create a methodological scientific framework to arrive at realistic integrated solutions to complex energy problems, by adopting a holistic systems-based approach, especially at the decision-making and planning stage for the creation of a resilient society. ~

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