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Cover Story | March 2017

Untapped Potential

The biomass/cogeneration industry would like the government to support the industry to tap its full potential with more advantageous policies.

Capacity addition in Renewable Energy (RE) has shown a steady progress in the past decade. Though wind energy is leading the RE basket, solar, biomass and small hydro have made significant progress in the last few years. The contribution of agriculture segment to GDP is 16 per cent. That means there is enough agri-waste (biomass) available to generate electricity.

Unlike wind and solar, biomass is reliable, widely available, and carbon-neutral. Not to forget the other major benefit -- employment generation in rural areas. Interestedly, more than 70 per cent of the Indian population still depend on biomass as their primary energy source, says the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE).

In India, cogeneration means mainly two things - electricity produced from burning of biomass and the second, heat recovery from large industrial plants. The commonly used biomass material in India includes bagasse, rice husk, straw, cotton stalk, coconut shells, soya husk, de-oiled cakes, coffee waste, jute waste, groundnut shells, saw dust etc. Heat recovery is largely from cement factories, refineries and even from thermal power plants.

According to MNRE, ´Biomass power generation in India is an industry that attracts investments of over Rs.600 crore every year, generating more than 5,000 million units of electricity and creating an yearly employment of more than 10 million man-days in the rural areas.´ And the ministry, realising the potential of the segment biomass, bagasse-based cogeneration in sugar mills and biomass power generation have been taken up under the Biomass Power and Cogeneration Programme, which aims at promoting the generation of electricity for grid power.

Present status
India is one of the largest sugar producers in the world and the second largest sugarcane producer. The country has been successful in implementing cogeneration in sugar mills. The ministry data shows that currently, the available biomass is estimated at 500 million metric tonnes per annum. It further states that an additional availability of 120 - 150 million metric tonnes per annum from agricultural and forestry residues, which put the potential of another 18,000 MW.

India has an installed capacity of 4,760 MW of biomass/cogeneration, from the approximately 500 biomass power and cogeneration projects. Around 30 biomass power plants with 350 MW and 70 cogeneration projects with a capacity of 800 MW are under various stages of implementation.

According to a paper presented by a group of Professors from Madhya Pradesh titled ´Bagasse Cogeneration in India: Status, Barriers,´ the country has made an impressive growth in the bagasse cogeneration. However, it points out that sustaining the growth in the segment is the real challenge. The country, through its integrated energy policy, had put its electricity generation capacity at 8,00,000 MW by 2032 from the end-January 2017 levels of 3,14,642 MW to sustain the economic growth. And according to a report published by the international consulting agency, KPMG, the biomass potential will be approximately 9,700 MW by 2017.

With the depleting conventional energy sources and India´s commitment to fighting climate change, the country has to look at tapping the potential of its RE sources in a better way. India started tapping biomass/cogeneration from the ´90´s. Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO) and RE tariff regulations played a crucial role in the growth of biomass/cogeneration capacity in India.

According to erec.org, globally, RE has the potential to provide 3078 times the current global energy needs. Of which biomass/cogeneration potential is 20 times. Studies that were published about two years back showed India´s biomass potential at 17356 MW, with Punjab leading with more than 3000 MW of potential. Tamil Nadu, Utter Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Haryana and Gujarat, have a potential of 1000-1500 MW capacity each.

In one word, technology will be the driving factor for the sector. In the biomass/cogen industry, the process involves combustion, gasification or pyrolysis to generate energy. And of which the most commonly used technology is combustion. This technology is similar to that of a coal based thermal plant, except for the boiler. The cycle used is the conventional ranking cycle with biomass being burnt in high-pressure boiler to generate steam and operating a turbine with generated steam. In the past few years, cogeneration through heat recovery has also started picking up momentum.

The sugar industry was the first industry segment in the country which began practising cogeneration using bagasse as a fuel. With advanced technology, the sugar sector was able to produce power for their needs. The surplus energy from cogeneration is supplied to the grid. It is a win-win situation for both the sugar industry and the country as the surplus power supplied to the grid is reducing the electricity capacity addition burden.

R Kulothungan, Senior Vice President Orient Green Power Ltd, said, ´In general, Hybridisation brings in higher efficiency, lower cost of generation and use of an alternate source of fuel for sustaining the operation of the cogen units. Technological upgradations like modernisation into super critical boilers, higher operating pressure etc., are being incorporated in the world even for conventional cogeneration. With the above and further improvements on the efficient use of fuels by lower moisture, ensuring complete burning are also likely to boost the cogen industry in India.´

India has a well established manufacturing base to cater to the machinery needs of the biomass/ cogen industry. There are a number of large manufacturers with established capabilities for manufacturing spreader stoker fired and travelling grate/dumping grate boilers; atmospheric pressure fluidized bed boilers and circulating fluidized bed boilers are the backbone that supports the cogen industry. The increasing demand from the industry is making the manufacturers to upgrade to the latest technology platforms with more energy efficiency.

´Besides the Central Financial Assistance, fiscal incentives, concessional import duty, excise duty, tax holiday for 10 years, bank loans of up to Rs.15 crore for biomass-based power generators will be considered part of Priority Sector Lending (PSL) etc., are available for Biomass power projects. The benefit of concessional custom duty and excise duty exemption are available on equipments required for initial setting up of biomass projects based on certification by Ministry. In addition, state electricity regulatory commissions have determined preferential tariffs and renewable purchase standards (RPS). Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA) provides loan for setting up biomass power and bagasse cogeneration projects,´ according to MNRE.

However, the industry feels that the government could do a little more hand holding till the industry matures enough. Kulothungan pointed out some of the key issues faced by the industry. ´There has not been an impressive growth in bagasse cogeneration in the last one decade as compared to other renewable segments and also sustaining the existing capacity is the real challenge. Further, the growth of deployment of bagasse cogeneration has been higher in private sector mills than in cooperatives and public sector mills.´

He further added that the main concerns and major bottlenecks of the Industry which are long lasting and to be addressed to harness the cogeneration potential are:
a) Lower capacity of the existing and operating sugar mills
b)Inadequate resources to establish cogeneration facility
c)Lack of management awareness on energy conservation
d)Competitive use of bagasse in paper and pulp industry
e)Lower preferential tariff in some states compared with the higher support price fixed by state government for sugarcane making bagasse cogeneration unattractive
f)Absence of strong RPO compliance mechanism for Cogen
g)Lack of grid connectivity
h)Unavailability of alternate fuel for running the power section during unseason, and
i)High wheeling and open access charges when power was to be sold through merchant mode.´
He also pointed out the way forward for the segment by highlighting the ways that can be integrated so as to tap the maximum potential. ´
Cogeneration is more a principle rather than a single technology, with the main advantage of Cogen plants being optimal efficiency. Conventional power generation process discards up to 65 per cent of energy potential as waste heat, while cogeneration plants have a conversion efficiency of 75-90 per cent. A further benefit lies in the proximity of the cogen facility as decentralised power generator which would certainly reduce the current transmission loses of 24 per cent to 5-10 per cent loss in transmission of electricity from typically remote traditional power stations. The Power Ministry after bringing in so many reforms in the electricity sector, may venture into the reduction of transmission losses across the nation. Environmentally friendly, cogeneration systems use less fuel to produce the same amount of energy. Cogeneration is an integrated energy system that may be altered, depending upon the needs of the energy user.

With the above due advantages , I do see that there exists lot of potential for next five years if the regulatory and policy issues are addressed adequately.´

Looking ahead
All will agree to the point put forward by Kulothungan ´According to me the following areas/actions are critical for changing the fortune of the sector in India:
a) Improving technical and operating efficiency of the existing plants
b) Replacing inefficient machinery with new energy efficient equipment
c) Adopting various means of energy conservation
d)Optimal design and effective implementation of cogeneration projects, and e) Implementing uniform, conducive, appropriate policy and regulatory initiatives and providing economical support from various agencies in the area.

-Renjini Liza Varghese

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