Thermal Power

As of 2015, India has 297 thermal power stations generating 188 gigawatts. Of these, 60 are corporate-owned and 136 are owned by either the central (federal) government or by one of India’s 29 state governments. The central government’s generation constitutes 30% of the total installed capacity; state sector generation accounts for 41% and the private sector generates 29%. The National Thermal Power Corporation, a unit of the central Ministry of Power, owns 14% of the thermal power stations in India.

Due to an energy deficit of nearly 160 gigawatts and inadequate distribution, 400 million Indians do not have regular access to electricity. To India’s economic planners, thermal power is the only viable option to fulfill much of India’s energy demand.

According to India’s Central Statistics Office, the installed capacity of fossil plants has an average annual growth of 7%. India’s coal consumption is growing rapidly. Coal currently accounts for approximately 60% of the total energy generated in India; while the country has the fifth largest reserves in the world, it also imports coal from Australia and the U.S. In 2014, coal imports hit 165 million tons per year. However, production must be improved if India is to have hope of closing in on its energy deficit. A study by CoalSwarm and the Sierra Group, two American environmental agencies, pegged the number of proposed Indian coal-fired plants at 588, with a capacity of 389 gigawatts.

India presents significant investment opportunities for foreign power companies. The government also encourages foreign direct investment; the National Tariff Policy allows power companies to make relatively predictable returns on invested capital. This sector is profitable in India, generating 15-17% margins with fixed purchase power agreements.

American companies have made some moves. Virginia-based AES Corporation operates a dual 210-megawatt thermal power unit in Odisha in eastern India. AES proposed a new “super-critical” thermal power plant to be built in the state of Chhattisgarh. A super-critical plant operates at higher temperatures to maximize fuel efficiency and minimize greenhouse gas emissions. The new AES plant will have an efficiency rating of 45% as well as reduced carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur emissions.

In 2015, India’s Ministry for Environment and Forests established new rules requiring power companies to reduce sulfur and nitrogen dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants by 80% within the next three years. India is on the path to safer and cleaner expansion of thermal power. Experts estimate that India’s clean coal capacity will grow by 103 gigawatts over the next decade.

Circulating fluidized bed-combustion, another clean coal process, has a 45% efficiency rate and results in reduced pollution rates. It is currently utilized in 60 thermal power units across India including the Neyveli Lignite Corporation complex in Tamil Nadu and Simhadri Power Plant in Andhra Pradesh. This process will become more common as India imposes regulations on existing coal-fired power plants.

In 2015, Essar Power Gujarat and CLP India were honored by the Peabody Energy Advanced Energy for Life Clean Coal Awards. Presented by the world’s largest private coal company, the award commended the Indian power plants for their below-average sulfur and nitrogen emissions.

Thermal power in India is a rapidly expanding sector. As India becomes more populated and industrialized, efficient power plants and clean coal techniques must also develop to keep up with the times.

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