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India needs mix of green & traditional power sources: J.P. Chalasani, Reliance Power

According to reports, recently, Reliance Power commissioned India’s largest solar power plant in Pokharan, close to the western periphery of Rajasthan. We felt justifiably proud.Recently, Reliance Power commissioned India’s largest solar power plantin Pokharan, close to the western periphery of Rajasthan. We felt justifiably proud.

It has displaced over 70,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually, which is roughly the equivalent of taking 25,000 cars off the road. And yet, for me, the thought that a 40 MW solar plant represented no more than a drop in the ocean was inescapable.

Today, India finds itself at the crossroads, grappling with the energy security-sustainable development conundrum. So, can rapid economic growth and sustainable, more inclusive, development be achieved in tandem?

As a concerned and responsible organisation, we pause and ponder once again about what we can do to recalibrate and escalate efforts towards ensuring that we can answer that question in the affirmative.

That over one-third of India’s rural population has no access to electricity must surely be a sobering thought for those of us who feel proud that we are a fast emerging global economy.

India needs to substantially bridge the gap between demand and supply of electricity for sustained economic growth and to kindle hope in the lives of its people. To bring light into the lives of those many people we need all sources of power that we can get access to.

I believe diversified fuel sources and new technologies will, in the years ahead, come to India’s rescue and help us strike a balance between our growth imperatives and sustainability. To begin with, in the energy mix in India, as in the case of other fast growing economies, coal continues, and will continue to, play a crucial role.

In India, coal accounts for more than 70 per cent of the country’s electricity generation. Of the 54,000 megawatts of power capacity added between 2007 and 2012 in India, over 70 per cent was coal-based. While coal-fired power generation is perceived as a major factor in carbon dioxide emissions leading to global warming, the use of advanced technology in recent times is rapidly changing that scenario.

Supercritical steam power plants notably meet the requirements for high efficiencies to reduce both fuel costs and CO2 emissions. The 11th five year plan saw the commissioning of the first few supercritical power units in India.

I am sure, this trend will continue in the 12th plan with many more supercritical units being commissioned including those from Ultra Mega Power Projects ( UMPPs).

The impact of greener supercritical technology in coal-fired power generation is also important because coal will remain the mainstay of power generation in the foreseeable future.

Coal mining is in itself not a carbon emitting activity and is only a temporary use of land. It is vital that rehabilitation of land takes place once mining operations have stopped. A detailed rehabilitation or reclamation plan is designed and approved for each coal mine, covering the period from the start of operations until well after mining has finished.

Mine reclamation activities are undertaken gradually – with the shaping and contouring of spoil piles, replacement of topsoil, seeding with grasses and planting of trees taking place on the mined-out areas.

Care should also be taken to relocate, among others, streams and wildlife. Effective steps are now being taken in modern mining operations to minimise any adverse environmental impact.

Recent reports in the British press that the European Union is set to accept energy generated from natural gas as a clean, green source of power is another encouraging development for power producers like us.

Indeed, I am of the view natural gas can contribute significantly to the transformation of the Indian energy system with much lower emissions, and its suitability to the varying electricity load requirements.

It is time our regulators consider mandatory procurement of gas based power as a portion of total power purchased by the distribution companies similar to the Renewable Purchase Obligations (RPO).

In addition to coal and natural gas, India’s large hydro power potential needs to be tapped to ensure a perennial source of clean and renewable energy. I believe hydro projects can be the answer to cost effective and green source of electricity generation for our country. In addition, it can prove to be the harbinger of development in some hill states, such as Arunachal Pradesh.

While wind continues to be the dominant source of power generation among the non-convention sources, solar energy is catching up fast with reduced tariffs and other advantages such as higher predictability of generation, its potential in India and the government’s initiatives such as the National Solar Mission.

On the World Environment Day, I would say new technologies and diversified fuel sources are sowing the seeds of success in the monumental task that faces India as it tries to bridge the yawning gap between its power generation capacity and the ever-growing demand for affordable electricity.

We at Reliance Power with our diversified portfolio of coal, gas, hydro, wind and solar projects will continue to lead the efforts towards a greener future for India’s future generations.

(The author is the Chief Executive Officer)

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