Andrew DeLeone, Managing Director, GE Power India Ltd
You are heading the thermal business for General Electric (GE) in South Asia. Can you throw some light on the business and the prospects in India?
I have been working with GE Power in Zurich, Switzerland for the last 12 years. Around two years ago, GE acquired the thermal power business of Alstom and I had the opportunity to head the South Asian division of this business in India. When we talk about South Asia, we predominantly think only about India, but countries like Bangladesh too offer tremendous amount of growth opportunities, besides many parts of Africa. The sector is currently going through a lot of transformation, whether it is in terms of decarbonisation, digital solutions or distributed power generation. But we, as a company are very clear that we absolutely need a fuel mix to deliver on the growth expectations globally as well as in India. When you think about coal in a place like India, coal is a vital part of our economy and our engine to grow the entire country. Our humble opinion is that it will be a really important part of the fuel mix for decades to come.
At what stage India is when compared to other developing countries in adopting latest technologies in power sector?
I would say India is on the right track and there is even more we can do. So, let's talk about two dimensions with respect to thermal. First is India's coal installed base of 200 gigawatt (GW or 1,000 MW) and then there are new build projects. On new build, we are working on NTPC's Telangana project. That is a project using very high technological parameters to drive high efficiency, low emission steam power. When you look at a company like NTPC and when they do a new power plant, the technology is absolutely world class. NTPC is leading the way on efficiency parameters, steam parameters and we can do even more. But, I think it is still a good beginning. Installed base is really where the country has a huge opportunity. So, let's just break it down into two big buckets and then an emerging trend. First, emissions - you are very well informed about what India is trying to do on sulphur dioxide (SOx), Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions. I would say, obviously it has not been fast as we see orders for new Flue Gas Desulphurisation (FGD) technology to meet those emission norms. But, we now see very clear market activity with NTPC leading here. They bid the first order for their Telangana project just a couple of weeks ago, and GE was proud to be the L1 player in that bid. Not only is GE doing steam turbine, broadly speaking, Turbine Hall in Telangana, but will also be providing FGD system. We supplied Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), which is the boiler partner on the Telangana project. GE is all over that project. I think that will start the rest of the sector to move.
In India, the thing really is probably 5-10 per cent lower than the global average efficiency. These are plants that were installed a long time ago when technology standards were different. The key is what are we going to do about it? So, the first question is, are there any plants that are fit to be retired for whatever reason? The second question is, what plants should keep operating and does it make sense to drive the efficiency improvements in them? And our answer is 'absolutely yes' for the latter, where not a huge overhaul is necessary - Very targeted improvements on steam turbine and shaft line of a power station is enough. We can drive technology to substantially improve heat rate and an overall plants efficiency and those programmes pay back the customer many times in 3-5 years. So this is a good investment financially. Secondly, it has huge implication on CO2 emission and fundamentally, you are using less coal. So, its efficiency is a good proposition financially for the country and for the generating company, and is also good for our progress towards emissions and CoP 21 goals. Thirdly, India is making very good progress on our renewable targets in India. This is a good thing and something GE fully supports and is a part of wind, solar and hydro space. We are completely on board with the country's vision here. The reality is we are going to need base load power and we need to have flexibility in our coal plants. Lastly, we can do so much. To use the American baseball terminology - We are in very early innings of the digital transformation of the power sector.
Coal is being projected as a bad boy by environmentalists and I have mentioned that we have to improve coal. How has the outlook changed in the last 10 years?
I want to reiterate what I said earlier. I would say coal is an essential part of the fuel mix with India having tremendous domestic reserves of coal. It is inexpensive, creates jobs, creates growth and everything the government is trying to do here. It is 24/7 power for all, and the foundation of 'Make in India' is driven by the coal sector. With improvement in emissions and efficiency and with what we can do around the sector's flexibility and digitisation, this is going to drive the largest and fastest impact to what we possibly can make. My view is, let's look at this thing in a positive way.
GE is one of the pioneers in making coal a better fuel. What are the new technologies you are working and how is it going to impact? What is the kind of efficiency they will drive?
Our most advanced coal plant technology is already in execution. So this is not laboratory, it is for real. It can bring the most advanced coal plant up to 49 per cent efficiency versus the global average of 33 per cent. Now what does it mean in terms of CO2? Every percentage point of efficiency reduces CO2 emissions by 2 per cent. That is about 32 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions. So what's possible here is huge. What a company like GE is trying to do is bring both physical and digital technology to these new plants. That is, more creative material structures to withstand higher temperatures and really advanced software and sensor technology in machine learning that continuously makes the power plant more intelligent as it operates. For example, we have a software called 'Boiler Opt'. It is a machine learning software in a boiler where it learns how that boiler operates at the most optimal conditions and it consistently learns that. And then naturally it doesn't send an email to somebody, but automatically adjusts the parameters of the boiler to operate at the optimal conditions as much as possible. So things like this, these are really transformative steps that are happening today. This is not in the laboratory this is really happening.
Now, as you said the government is focusing on renewable sources because it wants to focus on emission control. How coal is likely to survive this onslaught?
First of all, we are in step with what the government is trying to do. I would say the installed base is okay. If we do what's possible and in sync with India's plans on emissions, we are going to have extremely clean local pollutants. So, in things like SOx, NOx, PM 2.5, etc., Indian coal plants will be as clean as any in the world by 5- 8 years from now. Not only will coal survive it will drive the sector if it does things like that. Second is, efficiency. Efficiency is a direct impact towards bottom line and CO2 emissions. It is a no brainer, if we need to do more of it. Third is flexibility, in my mind it is going to be essential.
What are the coal-based projects you have executed in India and what is the potential to upgrade?
GE's Power Services business, in consortium with NGSL (50:50 joint venture of NTPC and GE) and Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited (GSECL), recently completed a steam turbine modernization project at the Ukai power station in the state of Gujarat. The project utilises GE's latest modernisation solutions. Earlier this year, GE announced it would help NTPC Limited, India's largest utility, to modernize three 200-MW Ansaldo steam turbines with ASP technology at the Ramagundam station.
How does capital cost work out for new super critical plant compared to conventional one?
Certainly, when you talk about a new build, there is more cost to use advanced technology. But, the overall economics of the plant, when you look at its 'lifetime cost', is cheaper to go in that direction, because with higher efficiency you are saving on the operating cost every year.
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