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Interaction | June 2016

Lack of proactive municipalities hampering growth

Salman Zafar | CEO, BioEnergy Consult

Tell us about your company and the Waste to Energy generation it deals with.
BioEnergy Consult, established in early 2007, is an advisory, consulting, training and awareness-raising organisation. We have rich experience and vast expertise in waste-to-energy, biomass energy and waste management sectors in India, Southeast Asia, Middle East and Africa. Our core services include resource assessment, techno-commercial consultancy, risk analysis, market intelligence, due diligence, training, fund-raising and project management.

What according to you, is the general sentiment towards setting up of Waste to Energy plants? Is there enough cooperation from municipal bodies, since setting up of plants involves land acquisition and capital expenditure?
Waste-to-energy projects, be it in India or any other developing country, is plagued by NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) effect. The general attitude towards waste-to-energy is that of indifference resulting in lukewarm public participation in such project. Lack of cooperation from municipalities is a major factor in sluggish growth of waste-to-energy sector in India. It has been observed that sometimes municipal officials connive with local politicians and ´garbage mafia´ to create hurdles in waste collection and waste transport. Supply of poor quality solid waste to waste-to-energy plants by municipal bodies has led to failure of several high-profile projects, such as the 6 MW MSW-to-biogas project in Lucknow, which was shut down within a year of commissioning due to waste quality issues.

What are the challenges that the Waste to Energy sector faces in the current scenario where there is a rejuvenated interest in clean energy? Do you think the buzz around solar and wind power have relegated the Waste to Energy sector to the back benches?
India´s experience with waste-to-energy has been lacklustre until now. The progress of waste-to-energy sector in India is hampered by multiple issues including:
1.Poor quality of municipal waste
2.High capital and O&M costs of waste-to-energy systems
3.Lack of indigenous technology
4.Lack of successful projects and failure of several ambitious projects
5.Lack of coordination between municipalities, state and central governments
6.Heavy reliance on government subsidies
7.Difficulties in obtaining long-term Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with state electricity boards (SEBs)
8.Lukewarm response of banks and financial institutions
9.Weak supply chain.

Waste-to-energy is different from solar (or wind) as it essentially aims to reduce the colossal amount of solid wastes accumulating in cities and towns all over India. In addition to managing wastes, waste-to-energy has the added advantage of producing power which can be used to meet rapidly increasing energy requirements of urban India. In my opinion, waste-to-energy sector has attracted renewed interest in the last couple of years due to Swachch Bharat Mission, though government´s heavy focus on solar power has impacted the development of waste-to-energy as well as biomass energy sectors.

What is the Waste to Energy potential of India? How much growth do you expect in the sector?
As per Energy Statistics 2015, waste-to-energy potential in India is estimated to be 2,556MW, of which approximately 150MW (around 6 per cent) has been harnessed till March 2016. The progress of waste-to-energy sector in India is dependent on resolution of MSW supply chain issues, better understanding of waste management practices, lowering of technology costs and flexible financial model. For the next two years, I am anticipating an increase of around 75-100 MW of installed capacity across India.

On the technological front, what kinds of advancements are happening in the sector?
Nowadays, advanced thermal technologies like thermal depolymerisation, gasification, pyrolysis and plasma gasification are hogging the limelight, mainly due to better energy efficiency, high conversion rates and less emissions. Incineration is still the most popular waste-to-energy technology, though there are serious emission concerns in developing countries as many project developers try to cut down costs by going for less efficient air pollution control system.

Do you think that government policies are in tandem when it comes to enabling this segment? What policies need to be changed, evolved or adopted to boost this sector?
A successful waste management strategy demands an integrated approach where recycling and waste-to-energy are given due importance in government policies. Government should strive to set up a dedicated waste-to-energy research centre to develop a low-cost and low-tech solution to harness clean energy from millions of tons of waste generated in India.

The government is planning many waste-to-energy projects in different cities in the coming years which may help in easing the waste situation to a certain extent. However, government policies should be inclined towards inclusive waste management, whereby the informal recycling community is not robbed of its livelihood due to waste-to-energy projects.

Government should also try to create favourable policies for establishment of decentralized waste-to-energy plants as big projects are a logistical nightmare and more prone to failure than small-to-medium scale ventures.

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