Reinventing routes to harvest energy

Environmental activists are pushing the boundaries of the use of renewable energy sources over conventional coal-fired generation in Tamil Nadu. As the technologies to harness and use these sources become more sophisticated, governments will need to match this with a willingness to look beyond coal.

The battle between conventional and renewable energy sources is as old as the technologies to harness these resources. While the dominance of coal in power generation over the past century may fade, in favor of renewables, state governments still appear to rely heavily on thermal power. They sincerely believe that no kind of renewable source can replace the electricity produced by coal to meet the growing demand.

While it is known that establishing thermal power plants would have a longer gestation period and leave a dark mark on the environment, not to mention a hole in the ozone layer, the need to generate enough energy to meet demand, and the confidence in the heat source to do so, has been overwhelming.

The Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (Tangedco) has the best balanced power generation of 50% polluting energy and 50% clean energy, including wind, solar, gas and hydropower. But the right balance remains only on paper, street of renewable energy activists. Campaigners point out that whether it is the decline in wind power or the lack of grid support for solar power, renewables have remained the victim.

The victimization of renewable energies has been highlighted in various reports. The latest report from Climate Risk Horizons (CRH) paints a grim picture of Tangedco’s plan to move forward with the construction of the Udangudi power project that could dig a hole in the power company’s pocket and worsen the situation. state budget deficit. Study ‘White Elephants-New Coal Investments Threaten Tamil Nadu’s Financial Recovery’, fights for a freeze on construction of coal-fired power plants in the state and for a mix of renewable energies, with coal only to manage the peak demand.

The report states that the construction would put the electric utility in a financial mess of 29,000 crore from 2024 to 2030 and an annual fixed cost of 5,000 crore from ₹. In addition, the cost of electricity produced from the power plants could reach 8.20 per unit, with the lowest cost being 6.70 per unit if the plant load factor is 75%. The report states: “Renewable energy is available at 3 per unit, and combined with the cost of storage it would come to ₹ 4.97 per unit. It could drop further to 3.40 yen per unit by 2030 when the thermal project goes live. “

Regardless of the “sunk cost” of 6,155 crore spent on the Uppur project (which the National Green Court canceled) and the Udangudi project, the study indicates that the state can recover 15,000 crore to 20,000 crore by freezing the project. Udangudi and opt for a mix of renewable and thermal energies.

A senior Tangedco official said that while renewables, particularly solar power, are being considered a cheap option, they are actually more expensive than conventional power if a 24-hour supply is required. Comparing the cost of setting up a solar power plant with that of a coal-fired power plant, the official said that the cost of storing the battery is between 12 and 15 per unit. Storage would only last six to eight hours. But what is required is storage for a minimum of 14 hours; in this case the cost would be 25-30 per unit. There is the option of hydraulic pump storage with the cost being ₹ 8 and 12. But the potential is limited, and that would require a forest area for mining, resulting in the destruction of the forest.

The power company plans to build two mega-power plants as part of the Udangudi power project with a capacity of 1,320 MW and 1,600 MW. The two plants would cost nearly 27,000 crore, which would add to the debt burden of the electric utility, according to the report. The 1,600 MW plant was planned to replace the Uppur thermal plant, which was canceled by the National Green Tribunal.

A senior Tangedco official, who perused the report, said some of the facts cited in the study were inaccurate. Officials said they were aware of the financial risks involved in building the Udangudi power project, but had no choice as battery storage for solar power is in its infancy and the cost. is prohibitive. The installation of a thermal power station is cheaper. However, the official said moving forward with the Udangudi project would not mean that the state, a leader in wind power generation, had closed the door to renewables; It is planned to increase the production of renewable energy through solar power plants with battery storage and hydroelectric power plants to 20,000 MW by the end of 2030.

Power managers said a roadmap to increase the share of renewables in the total mix from 50% to 60% is being prepared by addressing challenges, including grid integration difficulties electric. Wind, solar and hydropower, which remain the mainstay of renewable energy for the electric utility, are expected to expand. Solar energy will be extended to a capacity of 8,500 MW and hydroelectric power generated by pumped storage to 11,500 MW. The solar power plants are to be installed within the next five years and the pumped storage projects over a period of 10 years.

Tangedco’s Unconventional Energy Sources Department (NCES) has started preparatory work for the production of 6,000 MW of solar power in the first phase and 2,500 MW in the second phase. A senior ministry official said that under the 6,000 MW project, solar parks with a total capacity of 4,000 MW will be established in all districts and 2,000 MW of battery storage capacity will be created. The ministry has started to prepare the detailed project report for the 11,500 MW of hydroelectric power through pumped storage.

TRB Rajaa, lawmaker and member of the Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission, said Chief Minister MP Stalin was keen to promote renewable energy and environmentally friendly projects. Tamil Nadu is a leader in renewable energy with a capacity of over 15,500 MW. The Prime Minister has set a target of adding 18,000 MW of renewable energy over the next 10 years.

He said Tamil Nadu would switch to a no-coal policy after reaching excess capacity in wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. The Minister of Electricity had said the state was developing land banks for building solar parks and Guidance Tamil Nadu had a list of land banks for wind and solar projects. He said that one of the problems with renewables was that they would only be available at a certain period of time and therefore the main challenge would be storage. The Planning Commission is trying to find the right solutions.

Mr Rajaa said that with Tamil Nadu accounting for 13% of India’s coastline, the state is considering tapping offshore wind potential. Some companies have expressed their interest. According to a preliminary assessment by the National Wind Energy Institute, 31 gigawatts of offshore wind potential exists off the coast of Tamil Nadu. However, said Rajaa, offshore wind power should be developed with caution as there are environmentally sensitive areas and fishermen have expressed concerns.

One of the challenges in the push towards green energy is Tangedco’s weak financial situation, which has suffered huge losses. The calls for tenders launched by Tangedco for the supply of solar energy received a mixed reception. A few years ago, Tangedco outsourced the supply of wind and solar power to Solar Energy Corporation of India, a central government agency. According to official data, Tangedco owes more than 2,000 crore to renewable energy producers.

There was a problem of reducing the production of renewable energy, which became an endless conflict between Tangedco and the producers. In August 2021, the Electricity Appeals Tribunal ordered Tangedco and the Tamil Nadu State Load Despatch Center to jointly pay compensation to solar developers for the reduction in production from March 1 to June 30, 2017.

Based on the report of Power System Operation Corporation Ltd., the Electricity Appeals Tribunal concluded that the reduction instructions were issued for reasons other than grid security and set the compensation at 75% of the price per unit in accordance with power purchase agreements. The Tamil Nadu Electricity Regulatory Commission also asked the State Load Dispatch Center to develop a protocol of reduction reasons such as transmission constraints and grid safety and security. The reduction should be made after communicating the reasons to the producers in writing or through the State Load Dispatch Center website.


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