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Future of Conventional Power: The Generation Scenario in India

India has a generation gap, and it has nothing to do with age disparity among its people.

The subcontinent boasts just about every energy resource needed to make electricity, with big plans to grow many of those in the near future. Yet each of those must overcome serious barriers to realization.

Sundara Kavidass, the managing director of SP Energy Tek LLC, spoke on the “Power Generation Scenario in India” during the last session in the Future of Conventional Power Knowledge Hub at POWERGEN International last week. He laid out the progresses made on the thermal and renewable energy fronts as well as predictions and challenges for the future.

“Demand and supply are not able to meet,” Kavidass said. “There is a gap in India.”

India has made tremendous progress in meeting the energy needs of its people in recent years. Power consumption has more than doubled in the past 13 years to 1,181 kWh per capita in 2018.

Thermal power dominates the landscape. Coal covers about 54 percent of the national generation mix, while nuclear is only two percent, but is targeted to rise to 33 GW (or five times current capacity) by 2032.

Renewables capacity is 77 GW and targeted for 100 GW. Altogether, the nation is aiming for a diverse mix featuring coal, gas, nuclear, solar, wind and hydro.

And yet proponents for any of those must navigate around serious roadblocks. Coal will continue to play a major role in the Indian generation mix, but resource availability is critical and the cost of importing coal is a significant impediment.

Hydro certainly has its benefits, but the capital costs and lack of power during droughts limits that option, he said. Solar power has gained major capacity with some 70,000 MW under construction or development, yet the land-use ratio of about four acres to generate 1 MW causes serious debate in a land with high population density.

And current strategies would require at least $50 billion U.S. in investment to produce another 52 GW at minimum.

“They do not have the money,” Kavidass pointed out. “The plan is there, but not sure they can move forward. Without subsidies, solar is a big question mark.”

Nuclear power is moving forward, at least planning wise. India completed the 2,000-MW Kudankulam nuclear plant (pictured above) in recent years, but future projects are challenged by fuel availability, the amount of time and expense involved in building the plants and the fact that Russia is a key technology provider.

It’s complicated. The nation certainly provides a robust, potential expensive market for energy investors, but all must be aware of the challenges needed to close the gap.

Kavidass has significant power generation experience both in the U.S. and India. He worked for Dynergy, Exelon and Babcock and Wilcox in the former, as well as BHEL, Adani Power and Essar in the latter.

(Rod Walton is content director for Power Engineering and POWERGEN International).