The ongoing and increasing global conversations around clean energy have brought the operations of conventional power producers into sharp focus in recent years. Coal-fired thermal power plants have been a mainstay of the energy landscape around the world, and India is no different. Almost two-thirds of India’s installed power generation capacity is based on coal-fired plants, but most of these plants, especially the older ones, are yet to procure or install the requisite technology for emission control. The industry, however, has begun to take cognizance of this and a big push is underway to reduce the emission levels. The total power generation in the country is expected to cross 830 GW by the year 2030, and almost half of this will be coal-based. Thermal power producers must, therefore, take concrete steps towards making their operations more efficient and environmentally friendly.
The newly defined NOx emission levels are to be achieved by the year 2022 and the current technology, if implemented, is well equipped to enable the reduction in emissions, especially for the older plants. Coal-based power producers would do well to take corrective action, fast. On that front, not many coal-fired thermal power plants in India have yet fully leveraged the potential of primary measures for emission control. This is unfortunate, because primary methods are both effective and cost-efficient.
Implementing advanced NOx reduction technology at the stage of boiler combustion – which is the primary source of emissions – not only reduces emissions, but simultaneously enables to enhance plant performance through optimization of boiler operations. Moreover, primary NOx reduction methods entail lower operating and maintenance costs as compared to secondary methods, thereby ensuring that overall life-cycle costs are kept at minimum.
Emissions could be further reduced by replacing some of the coal by biomass fuel even up to 40% and studies indicate that even by replacing 10-15 percent of coal with forest residue or agricultural waste emissions of carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, particulate matter and NOx can be reduced significantly. We also cannot repudiate the role of energy efficiency in reducing the power exigency and consequently, the emissions. According to an estimate by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, energy efficiency can mitigate 500 billion units of energy and avoid 100 GW of power capacity, which translates into a potential reduction of 557 million tonnes of CO2 emission by 2030
Implementing any of these solutions in the most effective manner calls for specialized knowledge, and so power producers may need to call on the expertise of equipment suppliers and solution providers to make the transition to cleaner operations.
An analysis by the Global Subsidies Initiative of the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Council on Energy, Environment and Water has reportedly estimated that investments to the tune of $10-12 billion may be required for installing technology to control the emissions of NOx, SOx, particulate matter, and other pollutants. It’s a significant amount, but the health benefits far outweigh the investment costs.
India, through the Paris Climate Change Agreement, has committed to ensuring that at least 40 percent of the country’s power generation comes from non-fossil sources by the year 2030. The Government is promoting green energy heavily, but it is still likely that thermal power will dominate energy generation in the foreseeable future – to the extent of contributing up to 80 percent of the electrical generation in the year 2022, and over 60 percent in 2030.
The advent of technology has made thermal power generation relatively more acceptable in the changing and increasingly sensitive energy landscape. New methods for controlling different types of emissions are being tested or commercially deployed around the world. However, India, for the time being, doesn’t need to look beyond primary methods in its quest to reduce the NOx emission levels, even down to 300mg/Nm3. They will hold us in good stead in near future, as the advantages of reducing NOx emissions and ramping up the productivity of power plants are quite apparent. This is aided significantly by the minimum capital expenditure for installation of the NOx reduction technology and its zero operational costs. Over the past year, large organizations like Hindalco, in the private sector, and NTPC, in the public sector, have adopted primary NOx reduction technologies. Others would do well to follow suit.
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