A new technology will enable thermal power plants to start up in as little as an hour, a fraction of the 24 hours currently needed, allowing for greater integration of renewable energy sources in the national electricity production system, which now runs primarily on coal.
Thermal plants retrofitted with this equipment can start generation as soon as power from solar units starts to reduce with decreasing sunlight, replacing it with coal-fired electricity. It will balance power flow into the network and keep it stable. Such flexibility isn’t possible now since thermal power plants need 24 hours to start and cannot replace a fall in solar generation at a short interval.
Last week, India Power Corporation Ltd (IPCL) and Germany-based Uniper floated an equal joint venture company, India Uniper Power Services, which will source this proprietary technology from Uniper and offer it to Indian plants. “It is being successfully used at Uniper power station at Ratcliffe in the UK. Ratcliffe daily uses start and stop cycles in response to renewable generation. It is commonly used across EU countries, both for coaland gas-fired plants,” said Hemant Kanoria, Chairman of IPCL. “The technology is a complete approach involving upskilling of people, modification of procedures, training, modification of systems and rigorous risk assessment.”
The government has set a 100 gigawatt capacity addition target for solar power, which cannot yet be gainfully used to supply electricity to towns and cities because such plants cannot operate continuously. If stored in batteries, solar power will increase costs manifold and make it uneconomical. The Central Electricity Authority and other government agencies have been looking for a solution and this new technology could help at marginal additional cost.
Analysts said if this technology is successfully installed in existing plants, electricity exchanges could offer power in the hour-ahead market, depending on the day’s demand surges. Trades in Indian power exchanges are settled on a dayahead basis – buying and selling commitments are made a day earlier and power is supplied the next day. This cycle could be bought down to an hour.
“It will also allow idle plants to start generation as soon as they see a fall in supply or a rise in demand during a day. At present, a number of independent power producers are idling their plants due to lack of power demand. These plants generally start only after demand has been on the rise for a day or two. With this technology retrofitted, this cycle can shorten and it can help them get relatively better returns on their investment,” said an analyst.
An official from NTPC said it needs to verify if this technology works with equipment provided by Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd., which has built a majority of its thermal power plants. Kanoria of IPCL said it can be retrofitted on all plants, both coal and gas based.
ET View: Boost R&D investment
The development is welcome as it allows coal power plants to serve as ancillary units, stepping in when there is a dip in renewable energy supply. It also signals the need to invest in cutting edge research. Public and private entities and the government would do well to invest in and work with research institutes. Logan Forsythe Womens Jersey