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Feature | October 2018

"Diesel gensets are here to stay as power backup"

Ramesh Pasarija, former Chairman, Technical Committee, Indian Diesel Engine Manufacturers Association feels that an increase in the battery life will be a major challenge for diesel gensets.

A lot has changed over the last one year or so after the renewable energy segment saw a real push from the policy level. Do you think this has resulted in a demand decline for diesel gensets?
No, the diesel engines or gensets demand has not decreased but has stabilised in the recent times. For any new building, whether it is commercial or residential, lifts are an integral part. That means, there is a requirement for power backup. Though the power conditions in the country are improving, at the same time there is an increase in the demand for backup systems.

The industry has brought CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) and other variants as a part of the clean energy initiative, however, there is a less demand for such kinds of gensets. Very few companies, to the best of my knowledge, manufacture their products certified for initial regulations of CNG engine mainly because of the lack of demand. This indicates that diesel gensets would stay as a power backup system.

Technology has changed for diesel engines. What kind of improvement did the diesel genests segment witness?
Undoubtedly there is an improvement in terms of technology in diesel gensets, thanks to the emission regulations and rising diesel prices. Both have been the best inputs or catalysts for technological advancements in this segment. A few days ago, I was discussing a case; three gensets of 125 KVA, 250 KVA and 400 KVA, respectively were running at the same site, but independently. As it was running independently, it had a lower load factor. Because of this, it failed to take advantage of the full efficiency of diesel. Now if you can synchronise all the three gensets, one of the genset can shut off and the load can work on the remaining two, thus increasing the load factor to 75 per cent. The best efficiency for Indian gensets is at 75 per cent or more load levels.

The rising oil prices are a concern. In this scenario, what best can be done to improve efficiency to beat the oil prices?
There is a limit to which the efficiency can be improved. It was easy to upgrade from 30 per cent to 35 per cent, but to further increase- from 43 to 44 per cent efficiency- it will take a great deal. There are limitations to it and as a result, they (gensets) will be used only in case of emergency. Most of the gensets sold today are purely for emergency purposes. In the changed scenario, the life of the gensets in terms of the number of years may remain the same but in terms of the number of hours, the requirement has come down drastically. Instead of the earlier 20,000 hours, currently, the need may be for only 5,000 hours. The good news is that the power output per hour from these genets are increasing; e.g., if you have a 6 litre genset, earlier one may have been drawing 125 kVA, which now stands at 175-200 kVA. On the positive side, the size of gensets are compact and gives an economic advantage to the end user.

You pointed out that backup will be a part of any new establishment despite battery storage is becoming popular. Do you think this poses a significant challenge for the diesel genset segment?
Battery storage can be considered as a competitor. In addition, we consider solar energy also an competitor. But to my knowledge, the demand for the battery is not much. This may be because the consumers are still not sure about the life of the battery. Currently, the batteries may last for only 4-5 years. Battery disposal is a significant challenge. One cannot keep changing batteries every 4-5 years. However, the scenario can change any time. In case, the cost of the batteries comes down drastically, or the life of the batteries increases considerably, then it becomes a preferred choice and can put up a tough competition to diesel gensets.

- Renjini Varghese

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