Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Cook Islands Embrace Renewable Energy

Small efforts could make big difference. The digital flow of information has bridged geographical barriers. The lessons learnt in one country could be replicated in energy sector in India. The policy makers in India could take a leaf from Cook Islands to meet the energy requirements of rural communities living in remote locations in India.

Cook Islands’ Prime Minister Henry Puna announced sometime ago that the small Pacific island country would produce 50 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2015 and 100 percent by 2020. The location is far away. The size is small. But the initiative could become a replicable model. The micro generation of power could be an appropriate energy solution for small population with limited demand for energy.

Cook Islands consist of an archipelago of 15 volcanic islands with a land area of 240 sq km and a population of 19,000 people. It depends almost on imported fuels like most other Pacific countries. The policy shift in energy solutions is significant, even though the success so far has been modest. The important point to note is that the country has realised that fossil fuels make little sense when nature has given them abundance of sunshine and wind to meet their energy needs.

The demand for energy is obviously small. Plans are afoot to set up a two-MW solar plant at Aitutaki. It would serve the needs of a population of 2000 people. A two-MW wind power station would be erected at Rarotonga, where Cook’s majority of people live. The plant has received assistance from the Asian Development Bank. What’s interesting, they are not isolated cases. Similar renewable energy initiatives could be seen all over the Pacific.

In Solomon Islands, the electricity for over 300 people living on the island of Santa Ana is supplied by 50 solar home systems. A solar cum bio-fuel hybrid system meets the requirements of Guadalcanal’s only health centre in Aola. A year ago, Nauru introduced household solar lighting. The streetlights at its capital Yaren are powered by solar energy. New Caledonia has shifted to wind power. Solar cookers and LED are becoming increasingly popular at Kiribati.

The scenario at Fiji is equally inspiring. The Fiji government aims to meet 90 per cent of the country’s electricity needs from renewable energy sources by 2012. A wind farm, with 37 turbines, has been erected on the main island of Viti Levu, supplying 10 Mw of electricity through a power grid. In a bid to encourage more such initiatives, Fiji Development Bank has announced a lending programme for individuals and groups. To build a pool of skilled professionals, Fiji National University’s College of Engineering, Science and Technology offers a bachelor’s degree in renewable energy technologies.

India could see private initiatives soon. A Germany-based NRI scientist Amal Mukhopadhyay, chief of Hanseatic India Forum e.V. based in Hamburg, plans to set up three solar-powered health centres in Sunderbans in West Bengal with an estimated cost of 45,000 euros. "In remote villages in India, particularly in Sunderbans, many children, men and women die because of snake-bite and non-availability of anti-snake-venom serum. The solar-powered health centres will help store such life-saving medicines," says Mukhopadhyay.  The renewable energy is no longer a fad.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Infraline offers online knowledge shop on the energy sector

Infraline Energy is a comprehensive information and research service provider. The website offers several online resources and databases for the industry stakeholders. The section called products offers information on books and reports on the energy sector. The online bookstore gives the highlight of the books and reports by the organisation. One such report is CGD in India: Demystifying the opportunity, growth and investment potential which basically talks about the sector in India. The country is the new entrant in the natural gas market in comparison to the mature gas based economies of USA, UK, Korea and Japan amongst others. The share of natural gas in the energy basket of India stands at 10 percent in FY10 in comparison to the global average of 25 percent.

The report gives the basic idea of the sector and its evolution of CGD market in the domestic market. It also gives the overview of the regulatory framework impacting the CGD in India. Priced at Rs 50,000, the report will be released on October 31, 2011.

One of the market research books titled, Power Procurement in India: the need for smart planning, again to be released on October 31, 2011 reports on current power procurement in India analyses the regulatory dynamics of power procurement in the country. It also mentions the best strategies for power procurement in India and maps the business opportunities for stakeholders in the value chain. This research is also priced at Rs 50,000.

Interested industry stakeholders can buy books online from the online bookstore. These books and reports can be bought using MasterCard, Visa or American Express and the site accepts both credit card and debit card.

A significant section that would attract attention of the industry people is the events. The company organises several conferences and round table conferences periodically. The events section features the upcoming programmes along with the detailed description about the topic so that people who want to participate can apply online. The section also gives the participation cost for that particular conference.

InfralineEnergy is organising a conference on Renovation and Modernisation of Power Plants on October 19, 2011 at The Imperial Hotel in New Delhi. The conference will discuss the market potential and necessity of renovation and modernisation programmes in the context of ever-growing energy needs.

The conference will be addressed by Mr. U K Das, the Executive Director- SSBG & HERP Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd; the Managing Director of Doosan Babcock Services, Mr Sarajit Sen; Mr. P K Sinha, the head of the Project Management of NTP-Alstom Power Services Pvt Ltd.;  Mr M Venkareshwara Rao, the Engineering Officer of CPRI and Mr Zdenek Mezera who heads the Turbine Retrofit & Modernisation at Skoda Power.

Another upcoming event featured in the section is the International Conference on R-LNG Market in India-Understanding the Centerpiece of India Emerging Energy Value Chain. The conference is scheduled to take place on November 8, 2011 at The Imperial Hotel in New Delhi. The conference will be attended by eminent personalities in the sector such as Shri Prosad Dasgupta, Former MD & CEO, Petronet LNG, Amulya Charan, MD, Tata Power Trading, Dr. S C Sharma, OSD-Petroleum, Planning Commission.

Then, there is a section called Knowledge base, where a subscriber who has bought the online access to the website can get the detailed information about power, coal or oil and gas sector. However, in this apart, there is a section called free download, where the consumer do not have to pay or buy online books to access the information but can download these reports as and when needed. These are also market research books but are available free. For example, there is a small report on Pooling Price for Coal - Challenges Ahead. The report highlights the methodology for pooled pricing of coal at different scenarios as proposed by planning commission. It also talks about the impact of pooled pricing on Indian power sector.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The Threads of Hope in Energy

Many, of certain vintage, would remember Winds of Change that Klaus Meine sang in 1990. The context was fall of Berlin wall, the end of communism and the subsequent integration of East Germany with its West brethren. Two decades after, the underlying spirit of the song, of the German heavy metal band Scorpions’ vocalist, finds relevance in energy sector in India. The mental blocks are dissolving; from it rising, the green shoots.

The doctrine of sustainable development is making sense to many of the captains of industry. The deployment of renewable energy is more than altruism; it is profitable too. For, the truth has dawned that the conventional energy solutions has almost run out of steam. Changing tack has become necessary—well, for the reason that businesses exist, to ensure long-term profitability.

Living symbiotically with nature, consequently, is gaining credence. The choice for green energy is growing.  Many of them feel that the investment in renewable energy such as solar and wind should increase quickly. The government’s role, according to the industry, is to create a policy framework that ensures solar photovoltaic cells and solar thermal cells become the norm. “The only sustainable path to staying in black is, in fact, to go green,” remarked Mukul Saxena, Head, corporate research and technologies, Siemens India, sometime back in a conclave organised by Mint.  

Hard facts too point a similar wave. The wind energy sector has attracted foreign direct investment of Rs 1,510 crore over the past three years. “In the renewable energy sector, wind energy has emerged the fastest growing category,” the Minister of New & Renewable Energy, Dr Farooq Abdullah, informed the Lok Sabha a week ago. The mantra of maximisation of profit has taken a new course. 

The twin currents that would drive the shift towards green energy are investment and innovation. There would be collaboration between large and small companies. “Large companies that will lead some innovation will have to collaborate with smaller ones to develop that kind of technology,” opines Venkatesh Valluri, chairman and president, Ingersoll Rand (India).

How do we spread new technology in renewable energy quickly to reach a critical mass? The option, interestingly, could be either top-down or bottom-up. “The husk power generation in Bihar is a business innovation. For big companies, it is not so much about changing the source of power but rather conserving the power they use. It is different for each section. If you reduce air conditioning in your office by one degree, it may reduce power consumption by 10-12 percent,” explains Girish Paranjpe, Managing Director, Bloom Energy.

For long, India’s policy makers couldn’t estimate India’s natural advantages.  For them, it was like the proverbial space beneath an oil lamp. “We have nine months of sunshine, while Germany, with six months of sunshine, is the solar technology leader,” analyses Niranjan Khatri, general manager, WelcomEnviron Initiatives, ITC WelcomGroup. The perception is changing. The intent to go green is now perceived as a business opportunity. The idea is catching up. One initiative is influencing the birth of the other.  A case in point is IBM smartgrid.

Raghunandan KS, Director, Integrated Technology Services, IBM India and South Asia, explains IBM smart grid, “It is a part of IBM smarter planet project. For sustainable cities, it will encompass multiple technologies starting from water management, power optimisation to having sustainable use of technology. There are stages to adoption.

The first stage is compliance to certain government norms. The second is social consciousness, a citizen phase. The third is the innovation phase, where you look at not just doing the right things but also look for financial opportunities—a business development opportunity in helping other companies and the society to become greener, while also making our own business greener.” 

The evolution of thought is evident in business model. The leading green companies wish to steer away from government largesse. “Just as subsidy is not a good idea, tax is also not a good idea. Green initiatives have an economic rationale by themselves,” asserts Raghunandan.

The private enterprises, interestingly, are catalysing the public policy in India’s energy landscape. The winds of change are real.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Reap the Captive Mines

Amidst the clamour for green energy, which though necessary; the truth is, there’s no respite from the old horse, coal. The reasons are obvious. For decades, the country’s primary energy resource has been coal. The contribution of coal to India’s primary energy supply pool is over 50 percent. Its share in the country’s electricity generation is about 70 percent. The fulcrum of the economy is so much intertwined with coal that switching to other forms of energy overnight is implausible.

But the state of the availability of coal is far from comfortable. The shortage of coal is rising. The power plants, which are dependent on coal, are in a grim situation. So are the industries like cement. Sadly, more than the resources, the cause is the inept policies of the government. The situation that exists today could have been avoided had the government not resorted to an opaque policy while awarding captive mines. As a result, out of the 215 blocks allocated during 1993-2011, only 26 have started production.

“Altogether the allocated captive blocks hold a reserve of about 50 BT, which being more than the total extractable coal reserves of Indonesia. Together, they hold an enormous potential for fuel security in India,” says InfralineEnergy’s report ‘Captive Coal Blocks in India-2011, Unveiling the Opportunities Beneath’. The advantage with captive coal mining is that it will help in producing low cost power and thereby, would induce tariff competitiveness in the market. 

Why then, the other coal blocks were not developed? The allegation is rife in the air that the majority of these blocks were awarded almost for free. “The free allocation might be the single big reason for that many privately owned captive blocks not being developed,” says the report. The Ministry of Coal in a bid to save its face has de-allocated 24 coal blocks from the laggard developers.

Apart from environment clearance, the biggest hurdle that captive coal mining faces is the lack of mining expertise. The private participation could accelerate the need for advanced technologies to spot the large coal reserves and extract coal with minimum damage to the surrounding environment. Acquisition of land for mine will be easier, if the profit from mining is shared with the affected population. Equipment financing and leasing which is now confined to construction equipment industry would be available like the developed countries as the sector gains momentum. It would reduce the financial burden on the developer.  To develop the captive blocks linked with the capacities coming up during XII Five-Year Plan, the total investment requirements have been projected to be INR 32000 crore.

With the increase in the price of imported coal, the hope lies in captive mines. The policy makers should pick up few cues from the success of natural gas in Gujarat.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Progress without Hiccups

The face of a society reflects the source of energy it uses. Accelerated pace of growth cannot be at the cost of the environment. As the wisdom to preserve nature finds importance in the ingredients of economic growth, the policy makers should catalyse the pace of natural gas usage. The advantage with natural gas is that it combines the best of both worlds. Its high thermal content and relatively clean combustion traits compare well with coal and crude oil derivatives.

Natural gas is also benign to the environment. The emissions of CO produced during combustion of natural gas are 80 percent less compared to coal. The contribution of natural gas in emission of SOX and particulates is almost negligible when compared with other fuels. “The adoption of natural gas as an energy source, as a result, will not only decrease the emission level, but also increase the plant efficiency due to clean burning characteristics. Higher the efficiency means greater the conservation of energy and thus lesser environmental impacts,” says InfralineEnergy’s report “Natural Gas Market in Gujarat: Assessing the Progress and Prospects”. The report analyses the entire gas value chain within Gujarat in a bid to help businesses understand the underlying dynamics of a thriving gas market.

Gujarat is the only state, which has operational state level gas grid in India with natural gas pipeline network spanning 2300 kms. The state also has four city gas distribution (CGD) companies supplying compressed natural gas (CNG) and piped natural gas (PNG) to over 12 cities across the state. Besides this, Gujarat remains the only state in India which has successfully implemented gas distribution business at the village level.

The use of natural gas brings an additional source of revenue from protecting the environment. It has been estimated that Gujarat’s gas grid has reduced approximately 17 million tonnes of carbon emissions, which accounts for nearly 42 percent of total Certified Emission Reductions (CER) generated in India. The state is producing around 25 million CERs per year with a potential to grow up to 50 million CERs per year in the next few years.

The tangible benefits are also visible. Energy consumption accounts for nearly 30-35 percent of the total manufacturing costs of a ceramic unit. The ceramic industry depends on grid electricity, natural gas, charcoal, lignite and diesel. The supply of natural gas by GSPC Gas has revived the ceramic business in the Morbi region. Over 40 percent of the ceramic units in Morbi region use natural gas as a clean fuel while the rest continue with coal and bio-waste. Though the price of natural gas is more than coal, the natural gas has found favour with a number of SMEs such as ceramic and textiles industries within Gujarat. The reason, the return on investment is high. The natural gas provides high thermal value and less emission, which results in good quality of products.

The availability of natural gas in the villages of Gujarat has recharged the rural economy. Charotar Gas Sahakari Mandal Limited (CGSML), India’s sole village gas distribution company, supplies natural gas to 11 villages in Anand district. Founded in 1999 as a cooperative sector initiative, it distributes gas to villages which would not be covered by other city gas distribution companies operating within the city’s municipal limits. CGSML distributes piped gas to 11,000 domestic customers, about 100 industrial and 250 commercial customers. One of its biggest customers is Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd., more known, by its brand Amul.

The future of natural gas seems bright with the discovery of shale gas. The major basins in the country have been identified as shale rich. However, the inadequacy of technology to drill and to extract the gas hampers its growth. “The use of natural gas has the potential to reduce the country’s oil import bill and save the environment too,” says an energy expert.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Renewable Energy Salvation for Rural India

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it,” said Albert Einstein. Selling solar lighting systems to villagers seemed absurd to many educated Indians in the early 1990s. Though the liberalization of economy had started, it was yet to sweep clean the old mindsets. But Harish Hande, who was then in late 20’s, could see light in renewable energy, when others couldn’t think beyond kerosene lanterns in village huts. 

With a seed capital of Rs 1000, SELCO, the company, was founded with Neville Williams in 1995. Since its inception, the company has sold, serviced and financed over 125,000 solar systems to households in rural pockets of Karnataka, parts of Gujarat and parts of Kerala. He opted for an open source model for the energy solutions and has refused to hold the Intellectual Property for his solar powered lights—in the hope that the products, while copied, would be improvised further. The ripples of his initiative, as a result, would reach wider courting new followers.

Hande, who has been given this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award, has crushed the myth that poor people cannot afford renewable energy technologies; poor people cannot maintain sustainable technologies and social ventures cannot be run as commercial entities. His model of small-scale standalone solar installations is hope for some 500 million people in India, who don’t have access to grid at all. As a result, the electricity produced, where it needs to be consumed becomes important. A bit of imagination and change in mindset could help in deploying such energy solutions in some segments of urban India.

The inspiration came to Hande while on a weekend trip to Dominican Republic, a leader in energy initiatives in the Caribbean. But he could understand it well as he was associated with energy research for a while. At that time, he was engaged in doctorate in energy engineering (solar specialty) at the University of Massachusetts (Lowell). 

An undergraduate in Energy Engineering from the IIT, Kharagpur, Hande could figure out how to bridge the finance to make the solar lighting a success. SELCO empowers its customer by providing a complete package of product, service and consumer financing through grameena banks, cooperative societies, commercial banks and micro-finance institutions.

Though it may sound absurd, but there are many pockets in urban India where solar lighting could replace the grid connected ones. The street lights and those used outside the residences could go for solar. Even the parks could opt for such an energy solution. Some of the hoardings in New Delhi are using it. Apart from reducing the pressure on the grid, the increasing use of solar would reduce carbon emissions to the environment. It would also reduce the government’s import bill on kerosene.

What’s needed is a push from the government. It is more of a management issue than technology. Hande’s success story needs to be replicated in urban India. One hopes, someone like Hande emerges in urban India—soon.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Save Every Drop of Power

Even though, it may sound weird, in a mass production era, supply not always adjusts to demand. Over the past decade, the Indian power sector has almost doubled its installed generation capacity, from about 96 GW in 2000 to 170 GW in 2011. Yet, the demand for electricity continues to surpass supply. The Central Electricity Authority has estimated an energy shortfall of 10.3 percent and a peak shortage of 12.9 percent in the country during 2011-12. Adding capacity further would be a challenge, as the land to build new thermal, nuclear or hydro plants and the fuel to run them wouldn’t come easy. The price for capacity addition would be so steep that it would make more sense, if policy makers pay heed to reducing consumption as well.

Oversupply of a commodity often builds inefficiency and leads to wastage. A judicious use, therefore, stretches every drop of its utilisation. The ways to save energy has resulted in the evolution of Negawatt management, which is primarily, based on the old adage, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”A Megawatt, which is not produced or, an avoided Megawatt, is classified as a Negawatt. If 100 MW of energy is saved, it means 100 MW of clean energy is produced and that too, without polluting the environment. Increasing the use of solar heaters and compact fluorescent lamps though are simplest options to implement, but they aren’t enough. In addition to these initiatives, adopting telecom operators’ strategy of charging less for call rates at off-peak hours, that was vogue in India a decade ago, would help in the evolution of a smart grid for power transmission and distribution.

A traditional grid is a mechanical device, which allows sufficient power to flow safely through the system. But it has outgrown its role with the rise in complexity of users and sources of power. Blending from different sources of power such as thermal and renewal has become a necessity to ensure consistency in power supply. The problem with solar, wind and biomass generated power is that they are incapable of producing electricity all through the year. They need to be supplemented by thermal and hydro.

An artificial intelligence system, therefore, is needed. Using information technologies, it, a smart grid, could manage the demands of varied users. A smart grid is a dynamic system built around the principles of Negawatt management. It would encourage the consumers to use less energy during peak hours and shift the time of energy use from peak to off-peak hours such as night or weekends.

Though a commodity, electricity can’t be stored for long. The utility company can, however, use smart grid to reduce demand by direct control on equipment used by the consumer or through a tariff clause, whereby, a consumer reduces his load at certain hours of the day. As a result, during the peak hours, the consumers would receive less, but not so meager, that they have to resort to diesel gen sets or battery back-ups.

A smart grid in the long run can even offer users like schools and hospitals to have more power, even during peak hours, by paying more. The long-term possibilities are enormous. It would save the environment from avoidable emissions. The policy makers should make it happen. Sooner, the better it is.