Michael Keroulle, Commercial leader, GE Steam Power Systems.
Coal is being projected as a 'bad boy' of power sector by environmentalists. How its outlook has changed over the current decade since 2010?
Indeed coal was started being depicted as the bad boy a few years ago, not too long ago actually. Until 2010 it was okay, and then they started to focus on environment, which culminated into the Paris Agreement in 2015. And in the years before that there was a lot of glare on Russian ores about coal which have been used politically mostly in our view, to show that coal was bad. And to a certain extent a lot of that was based on real facts. But we see today a change of narrative to put back a bit more of reason in the argumentation in the discussion. Because the environmentalists will say coal is bad, should we do without coal. But the economic reality is that a lot of places need coal and will continue to need coal for a long time. But we are trying to bring in the perspective that if coal is implemented in the right way and following the right standards, we can actually mitigate dramatically the effect that it has on the environment.
Actually environmental concerns have prompted companies like you to pioneer better technologies, particularly using steam technology. How is it likely to change coal for the better as a cleaner and efficient fuel?
Exactly. That has been our positioning as a supplier of equipment and solution for as long as we exist. We have always driven the best available technologies in the market. We, in short, used supercritical 30-35 years ago. We ensured use of ultra supercritical in many places. We pushed and introduced supercritical in India through our partnership with BHEL. So, we like that, and we think there is really a good place for responsible use of coal if we use the right technology and that is exactly the positioning we have.
As we are discussing the future of coal, the prices of alternative and renewable power are falling. Indians are generally price sensitive. Do you think coal will be able to survive this onslaught, and how?
All the projections I have seen, even those we run, are showing that coal will remain the cheapest of the dependable power source. You know renewables have free fuel which is wind or sun. But it's not windy everyday and it is not sunny every day. So, the fact that it is intermittent is creating a lot of issues and is also affecting the distribution network a lot. And for that reason every country needs a very solid backbone of dependable power, and that can be provided in an economic manner only by gas when there is gas like in the US or by coal like in India where you have coal, or by nuclear when you have none of those like in France.
Actually that means coal as a balancing factor or a steady power source will remain...
Yes absolutely. We are convinced that coal in India is needed as balancing, and as a flexible source of dependable power and we are convinced that there is a lot of improvement that can be brought to this base of dependable power by getting better technologies and reducing emissions. So we can make that much more for a 'good boy' rather than a 'bad boy' technology.
Actually in India coal quality has been a concern from the beginning. So have you done any study of that on how to improve the systems?
We have very long standing experience of designing plants for Indian coal, that is one of our specialities. We have been present in burning Indian coals for 25-30 years. So, we know your coals very well and actually we like when the coals are difficult. That is part of our know-how it is about burning difficult coals. So, we have continued to invest in really understanding how the Indian coal behaves and today we can operate the most advanced and efficient plants with Indian coal.
What are the coal based projects you have executed in India and what is the potential for upgrading existing coal plants to meet the growing demand in India?
GE is an industry leader in developing supercritical steam-based power generation technology. GE Steam Power Systems is the comprehensive coal-based power generation solution provider in India.
We have been working very closely with our licensee, BHEL, on the broader side. So, BHEL has license from us for all the supercritical plants and I think we have done around 15 or 17 plants with them. And it is a good partnership that has been long standing, and is working well. Before that we were already the technology provider for BHEL for the subcritical plants. So it has been a long experience. Now, as GE, we have also developed our own presence in the Indian market. GE currently has 5 projects and 12 turbine islands under execution, where we focus mostly on the turbine island and in the environmental island. GE has facilities across India - Sanand in Gujarat, Durgapur in West Bengal and Shahabad in Karnataka - to manufacture steam turbines, generators, boiler components, auxiliaries, coal mills, environmental control solutions etc.
Actually how the capital costs work out for a new plant in India if it is supercritical?
There is no real difference between supercritical investment and subcritical investment. This is the same kind of order of magnitude. The tariff is really low. So every investment is a challenge in itself but the cost of equipment and plant is also very low in India. It is very cost-effective. So, we think the capital cost can actually work favourably in the current context and of course, with the new regulation on the emissions the capital cost will increase slightly but again with the reformed tariff we believe this is still a bankable business.
You have a tie-up with BHEL, by utilising the cost advantages in India are you planning to export some of the equipment from India to the world?
We are not excluding it, but we have invested in India for the Indian market mostly.
- BS Srinivasalu Reddy