Energy

Coal here to stay, but measures can cut down emissions by 22%: CSE

Coal to contribute around 50% of electricity generation mix even in 2030, according to CSE analysis

 
By DTE Staff
Published: Monday 14 December 2020
Coal will stay till 2030, but measures can cut down greenhouse gas emissions by 22%, according to CSE. Photo: Vikas Choudhary

Coal will continue to be the mainstay of India’s power generation till at least 2030, but efforts must made to ensure it is used efficiently to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

Improving fleet technology and efficiency, propagating biomass co-firing and investing in carbon capture and storage are among the few feasible measures put forth by experts during a webinar by think-tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). The measures, among others, could help cut GHG emissions by 22 per cent, according to CSE. 

The webinar, titled Reducing CO2 footprints of India’s coal-based power sector, brought together some key experts from the field to discuss the issue.

India’s coal-based thermal power sector is one of the country’s biggest emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2). It spews out 1.1 gigatonne of CO2 every year; this is 2.5 per cent of global GHG emissions, one-third of India’s GHG emissions, and around 50 per cent of India’s fuel-related CO2 emissions.

Speaking about CSE’s standpoint on coal, director-general Sunita Narain said:

 “We need an energy transformation through which we would realise the co-benefits of local and global emission reduction. We also need the right to energy for all, as energy poverty and inequity is not acceptable. At the same time, we recognise the fact that coal is still very much a part of India’s power needs.” 

According to Nivit K Yadav, programme director, industrial pollution unit, CSE:

“We need policies for decarbonising coal power. If these get implemented, CO2 emissions from the coal power sector can be reduced by up to 22 per cent in comparison to a business-as-usual scenario.”

These include:

  • Improve fleet technology and efficiency, renovate and modernise: India has one of the youngest coal fleets in the world, with around 64 per cent of the capacity (132 GW) less than a decade old. Maintaining efficiency of this large fleet will be crucial as it is going to be operational for at least the next 15-20 years. The government’s renovation and modernisation policies need to play a key role in maintaining the efficiency of this fleet.

According to Vinay Trivedi, senior research associate with CSE’s industrial pollution unit: “We have an opportunity to ensure that all coal-based thermal power plants are ultra-super-critical or advance ultra-super-critical. The cost increase to do this would be marginal, but the advantage will be that we will become far more resource- and emissions-efficient.” 

  • Plan for the old capacity: In 2015, over 34 GW capacity in India was more than 25 years old, and 60 per cent of it was highly inefficient. Increasing India’s renewable electricity generation can help further the cause to accelerate the retirement of old and inefficient plants.

According to Yadav: “The current retirement strategy is poor — retirement targets of old and inefficient fleet are being continuously missed. Lack of holistic approach to strategically utilise the resources of old units is leading to significant delays in the retirement process.” 

  • Propagate biomass co-firing: Biomass co-firing is a globally accepted cost-effective method for decarbonising a coal fleet. Only one plant currently co-fires biomass in India, said Trivedi. “India is a country where biomass is usually burnt on the field — this reflects apathy towards resolving the problem of clean coal using a very simple solution that is readily available,” he said. 
  • Invest in carbon capture and storage (CCS): Globally, carbon capture and storage has struggled to pick up – the CSE analysis notes that India’s prospects appear to be dim at least until 2030. CSE analysts recommended that businesses should invest in indigenous research and development to bring down the costs of CCS. 
  • Bring back coal beneficiation: “This is another missed opportunity on which we need a course correction,” said Yadav. A 1997 environment ministry notification had mandated the use of beneficiated coal from 2001 with ash content not more than 34 per cent. However, in 2020, overturning the good work, the government allowed use of coal irrespective of the ash content.

Yadav stressed that “we cannot do away with coal so quickly”.  

“Even in 2030, coal will contribute around 50 per cent of the electricity generation mix. How, then, can the country move ahead on a path where it can use coal efficiently to reduce its share of GHG emissions?” he added.

Renewable capacity addition alone cannot be enough; ambitious plans to reduce GHG emissions in coal sector are equally needed to meaningfully tackle climate change, the analysis concluded.

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