India has been heavily reliant on coal for bulk of its electricity needs. Going by the recommendations of the 12th and 13th 5-year Plans, this dependence looks likely to continue well into the future. An addition of 73,000 MW of coal plants has been planned during the period from 2015 to 2022. This paper will explain that focusing heavily on baseload, coal plants will lead to inefficiency and inflexibility. Power demand is increasingly following a cyclical pattern, characterized by sharp peaks during certain hours and marked troughs during off-peak hours and night. The demand for power changes continuously according to daily, weekly and seasonal load variations. Therefore, the combined output from electricity generators has to vary all the time to match the changing demand. The introduction of 1,75,000 MW of variable wind, solar and other renewable energy by 2022 will create additional dynamics in matching power demand & supply. The paper will explain the challenges of this balancing act. If capacity of baseload plants exceeds a certain threshold in the system, they will run at sub-optimal loads during off-peak hours. This leads to a significant drop in their efficiency. Many of the coal plants are already operating at a lower-than-normative annual plant-load factor (PLF).

This paper will present a case for changing the traditional mix and pruning down the baseload coal plants to about 80% of the planned capacity, replacing the balance 20% with internal combustion engine (ICE) based peaking plants. This modern distributed generation technology using natural gas with quick start/stop characteristics and fast ramp-up capability are ideal to meet peaking needs. They will enable baseload plants to operate at optimal load and best efficiency and will come online only as needed. The benefits of these hybrid systems can be quantified and further can be used for planning of power infrastructure in India.

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  M Rajagopalan

   Market Development Director Asia & Middle East
   Wärtsilä Energy Solutions
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