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Cover Story | September 2015

Economy of scale is a must to make supercritical viable

Laurence Dewitt, Director – Technical, CLP India

What are the opportunities for this technology in India?

Since the last few years, government policy and the environmental framework that grants concessions to operate a power plant have been clearly favouring supercritical or efficient and cleaner technology. Over the past five years, enough experience has been gained by power plant operators to successfully run supercritical boilers, which used to be a major concern in the beginning. Even the new equipment supply capability is now equipped to supply supercritical technology and the capital cost to source this technology is becoming very competitive. Another factor is that fuel cost is the major driver for the final landed electricity cost. Efficiency derived from supercritical technology by way of saving the fuel cost, offsets the impact of increase in its capital cost when you compare it with the capabilities of subcritical technologies to burn coal. In fact, government has recognized these benefits and has rolled out a plan for setting UMPPs with supercritical technology.

Does the technology need to be of a certain size?
Currently, 600/ 660/ 700/ 800/ 1,000 MW capacity units are available and that presents sufficient variety. The lower capacity 350 to 500 MW with supercritical technology will be useful when it comes to replacing older units in an incremental manner. But to answer your questions, yes it is better to have economies of scale, as size increases, fixed cost reduces.

How will supercritical technology bring down fuel cost and its usage?
In the Indian context, supercritical technology being a better technology offers 2-3.5 per cent higher efficiency, compared to even the best subcritical units. This eventually translates into savings as high as 8-10 per cent in terms of lower fuel cost per kWh, as not only the technology is efficient, but the fuel consumption is also lower for equivalent electrical output.

How doese implementation of supercritical technology increase the efficiency of power projects?
The generation efficiency of coal fired stations depends on the steam parameters adopted - higher the steam parameters, higher is the efficiency. Efficiency improvement of about 2.5 per cent over the present 500 MW subcritical units is expected, due to the currently adopted steam parameters for supercritical units.

Is India ready to adopt ultra-super critical technology as it comes with a high cost?
It is evident that ultra-supercritical technology, where efficiencies greater than 45 per cent can be achieved, is the next big change for coal-fired power plants in India too. New state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities for supercritical and ultra-supercritical turbines and generators have been set up in India too.

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