A windfall of energy

Updated: Nov 19 2005, 05:30am hrs
With the cost of fossil fuels that have been traditional sources of energy such as coal, gas and crude oil depleting the world over, the focus is now shifting more and more towards renewable energy sources or green power. The Government of India recognised the importance of increasing use of renewable energy sources in the the early 1970s when oil shocks led to spiraling crude oil prices in the world. During the past 25 years, a significant effort has gone into the development of a variety of renewable energy technologies such as wind, solar energy, biogass and hydro power for generation of power.

The government may soon make it obligatory on states to meet 10% of their total power needs through non-conventional energy sources. The move is part of the efforts to build a large consumer base for non-conventional energy sources in the country. Moreover, the Electricity Act 2003 contains provisions to promote the accelerated development of power from non-conventional sources.

The developments promise to be a windfall for the few corporates in non-conventional energy business. The biggest beneficiaries, of course, would be those in the wind energy sector. Of the total 4,800 MW of renewable energy production in India, wind energy contributes 2,483 MW, hydro power 1,603 and biomass power and co-generation account for 613 MW. Hydro power, solar and biomass projects too are beginning to attract corporate investments.

Corporates such as Suzlon, Enercon, NEG Micon, Vestas RR have already installed 400 MW of installed capacity of wind power in the state. Of the 750 MW, these players have so far added 200 MW,said Anil Diggikar, director general of Maharastra Energy Development Agency (MEDA). As a thumb rule the per megawatt cost is Rs 5 crore for the setting up wind-power projects. Investment of Rs 2,000-crore is expected in this segment by 2010.

Suzlon has commissioned the largest wind park of 201 MW at Vankusawade situated in Satara district in the pictursque western Maharashtra. According to the company sources, it has also set up the Kavdya Dongar wind park in Ahmednagar district. The site has a mean annual wind speed of 22.08 kmph at 30 m height. This apart, Vestas RR India has installed wind electric generators in the state. The company notes that the most suitable capacity of these generators are in the range of 225 to 600 KW.

According to an ICRA report on renewable energy, wind energy is closest to being commercially viable in the country. India has made substantial progress in harnessing wind power and is at present the fifth largest producer after Germany, Spain, the US and Denmark. The total wind power capacity at the end of 2004 was estimated at around 2,985 MW. The total wind power generation in India aggregated 2,928.5 million units in FY 2004, as compared with 910.8 MUs in FY 1998.

Small hydropower systems can be used an an alternative to provide electricity. Internationally, small hydropower would refer to capacities between 20 MW and 30 MW. In West Bengal, the National Thermal Power Corporation and the Narmada Hydro Development Corporation are adding capacity to the 52.5mw Ramman project and 75mw Teesta Canal Falls. These two will augmnt hydel generation by 170mw.

The 900mw Purulia Pumped Storage Plant, which is not strictly hydel but will take reserved water as its raw material for manufacturing power, is expected to be fully operational by March 2007. Therefore, if the Union government make it obligatory to the states to meet 10% of their total power need from non-conventional energy soruces including hydro-electric power, Bengal is likely to be in a comfortable position in increasing the share of non-conventional and hydel power to their total energy kitty.

India has the potential to produce nearly 10,000 mw from small hydro-power projects. So far 271 projects in 25 states amounting to 217 MW have been completed and 131 projects in 22 states with 133.18 are under construction, according to a government report. States such as West Bengal have taken leap in this particular sector. The West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency (WBREEDA) has already proposed to the the states Electricity Regulatory Commission (WBSERC) that it adopt a renewable portfolio standard requiring utilities to acquire aspecific amount from renewable energy sources.

At present solar photovoltaic cells power 129 villages and biomass-based power six villages in the state. Around 10,000 households have solar lighting systems and there are around 700 solar street lights. There are 1.10 lakh installed bio-gas plants. In all, this takes care of about 2% of the total energy required for the state.

Corporate bodies such as Texmaco, Kamarhati Jute Mills, Nippon Power, Synergy Renewables and Exide have invested Rs 350 crore for creating a total capacity of 50mw from solar power and other sources of renewable energy resources as rice husk. They are expected to be comissioned by 2007. WBREDA is looking for more private investments in this sector and plans to add another 50mw through private investments by 2008. The agency will float tenders for this in December this year, Gon Chowdhury said.

He said this will actually help WBREDA to convert the potential into reality. At present, a low-customer base for green energy restricts the creation of such capacity. Rural Bengal is the customer base and this can be widened if the West Bengal State Electricity Board, the distributing agency that has undertaken extensive rural electrification, procures green power.

Maharashtra, which is reeling under acute power shortfall, was forced to explore various opportunities in non-conventional energy for capacity addition in order to meet the ever-increasing power demand. It has set a modest target of capacity addition of 750 MW for wind power projects by April 2007, 300 MW by biomass, 750 MW for bagasse-based projects during next Plan period. Bagasse is got by a process called co-generation where sugarcane waste is burnt and electricity generated by that process.

Maharashtra Energy Development Agency (MEDA), which is a nodal agency for the promotion of non-conventional energy with the involvement of private sector, proposes to file a plea before Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) for additional capacity of 1,000 MW from wind power project to be achieved by 2010.

Meanwhile, West Bengal, excluding the capital Kolkata, has a peak demand of 2700mw. According to the WBREDAs director, SP Gon Chaudhuri, non-conventional energy resources have a potential to generate 900mw or 30% of the demand. Of this, 450mw can come from wind energy, 200mw from small hydro projects and 300mw from biomass. Added to this there is trememdous opportunity for the state to get power from solar and off-shore energy.

Wind power haressing has played a major role in Tamil Nadu which with 2036.9 mw, is a leader in wind power istallation in India. Karnataka has an installed capacity of 410 mw through wind power. In Tamil Nadu almost all the major corporate houses have wind power installations. In the Coimbatore-Tirupur belt a large number of small textile mills have isntalled wind turbines.

The other non-renewable energy resource that is popular is biomass which is an organic material that has stored sunlight in the form of chemical energy. Biomass fuels include wood, wood waste, straw, manure, sugarcane and other byproducts from agricultural processes. The managing director, Federation of Cooperative Sugercane Factories of Maharashtra, the umbrella organisation for 173 sugarcane cooperatives and a couple of private factories, Prakash Naik-Navare, says, Maharashtra has tremendous potential for bagasse-based power generation as it gives higher returns comapared to the production of ethanol or sale of sugar. It is a cost effective exercise. In the fiscal 2004-05, 2005-06, 2006-07, there will be increased sugarcane crushing which that will produce almost 29% of bagasse and this will be available for co-generation projects.

The ICRA report points out that by using surplus agricultural residues, more than 16,000 MW of grid quality power can be generated with presently available technologies. In addition, around 3,500 mw of power can be produced, if all 500 sugar mills in the country switch over to modern techniques of co-generation.

MEDA has already prepared a blue print for the capacity addition of 750 MW based on bagasse. There are over 160 sugar facories in Maharashtra of which nearly 50 have shown their interest for co-generation. So far the state has an installed capacity of 60 MW by bagasse-based projects. The regulators have already fixed the per unit tariff for the power purchase.

The government of Maharashtra is expected to soon float tenders seeking private-sector participation, for harnessing power through co-generation in sugar factories, according to sources. So far GMR industries, Ugar Sugar Ltd. have shown interest to participate in the bidding process.

As far as biomass projects are concerned, Diggikar said various private developers have shown their desire to set up projects with capacity of 8 to 10 MW in the state. According to MERC, the price at which power could be purchased by a licensee from biomass projects commissioned during 2005-06 would be Rs 3.04 per kWh for the first year of its operation. The energy purchase agreement tenure is fixed at 13 years, he added. Tamil Nadu has co-generation in sugar mills, and projects for generating power from biomass, municpal and urban waste and industrial waste. Erode in Tamil Nadu has 23,948 biogas plants in the district. Private enterprises such as Thiru Arooran Sugar Ltd aand EID Parry, and other smaller players have invested in the non-conventional energy resources in the state.

MEDA plans to tap a potential of 4,000 MW by encouraging geo-thermal based power projects in the state. It has also worked out a roadmap to seek carbon credit of Rs 450-crore under the clean development mechanism by 2012.

In future, as the country has one of the largest programmes for renewable energy, it can look forward to tapping its vast resources for green power.

inputs Joseph Vackayil