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There is nothing better than a blackout to wake you up. The nationwide trip that saw 19 states go without power for hours last week did just that. If you thought big, new power plants were a way out of the darkness, think again. You have a legacy to battle with.
India added 19,459 MW new power capacity in 2011-12; the installed capacity stood at 1,92,792 MW at the end of the 11th Plan. But of the total installed thermal capacity of 1,33,363 MW in April 2012, about 22 per cent is under utilised. “You can classify 25,000-30,000 MW as inefficient capacity,” confirms D.K. Jain, former director (technical) at National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC).
These plants produce less power even as they consume as much fuel as an efficient plant. Besides, even as the country battles regular grid failures due to overdrawal by states, 30,000 MW of new capacity — equalling 15 per cent of installed capacity — is lying idle due to fuel shortage. But that’s another matter.
|76% is the average national efficiency level (or, plant load factor) of all power plants|
Bihar, for instance, had to shut down most of its installed power capacity because of poorly run plants; the state now depends entirely on centrally allocated power.
“While the average cost of generation from a plant comes to about Rs 1.80-2 per unit, inefficient plants increase the cost by three times to Rs 4-6 per unit,” says a senior official of the Bihar State Electricity Board (BSEB).
Old Is Not Gold
India’s power sector started out with plants with low unit sizes — 10, 15, 30, 60, 80 and 100 MW (the first unit of 200 MW came up at Obra in Uttar Pradesh in 1977). These have a non-reheat design, which basically means high auxiliary power consumption and lower efficiency. The Centre tried to retrofit these plants, but found the plan unviable. The government has since asked the respective states to slowly phase out all units up to 100 MW in size.
|D.K. JAIN Former director, technical, National Thermal Power Corporation Says you can classify 25,000-30,000 MW as inefficient capacity.|
(BW Pic by Tribhuwan sharma)
“The problem is that it has not been made mandatory for the state governments to retire such plants. The utilities don’t want to give up on them even if they operate at very low efficiency,” says Jain. A senior power ministry official explains the dilemma: “You cannot retire all inefficient plants without new capacity coming up. Many a time, states prefer to keep these as they cannot afford to close down generation.”
Step In The Right Direction
(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 13-08-2012)