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Mr. Ashok Ganesan, Managing Director, GE Power India Limited

06 Oct 2016

In an attempt to keep Infraline Energys’ readers abreast with the key issues and challenges engulfing the sector, Infraline Energy tries to bring forth the opinion of key personnel whose decisions and opinion play a vital role in shaping the sector. Please find below excerpts from the interview that Infraline Energy conducted:

‘Digitisation of power sector the game changer that will transform the industry’ Ashok Ganesan, Managing Director, GE Power India Limited, remains bullish on the future growth prospects in the power sector. Ganesan believes that while India is making steady progress on the renewable front, it is equally essential to find the right balance between renewable and conventional power in order to maintain firm and reliable supply of power. At the same time, he feels that there is a need to embrace digital technologies that can enable and accelerate transformation to help decarbonize the world.

What are the challenges facing the power sector today? What are your suggestions to remove bottlenecks?

The goal for the power sectorand the country today is to deliver affordable power more flexibly, responsively and cleanly. Coal will continue to be a critical source of electricity in India for the next couple of decades, even while we ramp up the generation capacity in renewable energy. The ability of countries (including India) to meet emissions goals set out in the Paris COP21 agreement, while meeting growing demand for electricity, will depend on the ability of fossil fuel-powered plants such as coal to deliver. In this scenario, improving the efficiency of power generated from coal-fired plants is a critical need and a challenge. As a nation, one way to increase the efficiency of coal based power generation is to switch more and more of the generation to highly efficient super critical and ultra-supercritical plants. These plants have designs net efficiencies of ~2200 Kcal/KWH as compared to some of the older plants that were designed to operate at efficiencies of around 2450+ Kcal/Kwh. However, this approach has its own challenges. Firstly, new plants require significant investment. Given the financial situation of many of the private players (and quite a few government entities), adequate funding for new plants will prove to be a challenge. Financial institutions are already over-exposed on Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) to the power sector. Secondly, new plants will also require significant amount of space. Land where it is available is probably better served in putting up renewable energy based generation. Thirdly, time to build. Tendering a new plant and eventually bringing the power from such plants to the grid takes a very long time (3-5 years). Fourth, demand vs Supply gap: Even with the addition of such plants, demand will continue to grow, and it may not be feasible to add sufficient capacity over the next decade to keep pace with the growing demand. For all these reasons, the biggest opportunity to improve efficiency is in the installed base. Plants continue to age (about 36 GW in India is more than 25 years old), systems are highly complex and average efficiency is very low. Many of the existing plants have operating efficiencies much deteriorated from the design condition while some have operating efficiencies even as high as 4000Kcal/KWH and beyond. Companies must therefore, embark on plant level R&M (Renovation and Modernization) and upgrades to increase total plant efficiency, while extending life. This has the dual advantage of increasing efficiency of power generation for minimal capital investment, while utilizing existing space and (mostly) depreciated assets. Such renovated plants will see increased efficiencies (better than original design.) As per studies, it has been found out that 1% efficiency improvement in power generation would typically result in 2-3% reduction in the GHG emissions. Typical R&M solution would improve the efficiency level by 10-15%. If one assumes ~40GWof coal capacity currently operating at poor efficiency levels deploys R&M solutions improving their operating efficiencies by say ~10%. The emissions from them would get reduced by around 42 million tons/year from their current levels. This is equivalent to having approximately 32.4 million motor vehicles off the Indian roads. These are substantial benefits in emission reduction and added to this one would also achieve the objective of having cheaper and affordable power available to the Indians. It will also be able to compete with the newer plants on price of power. However, this requires significant focus from the regulatory agencies to ensure that the benefits of such improvements do remain with the companies making the requisite investments otherwise; there will be no incentive for any of the companies to make the required investment. At the same time, companies also need to embrace digital technologies that can enable and accelerate transformation to help decarbonize the world. In India, we need to step up the upgradation of the power infrastructure through such technological interventions. We have a huge installed base and upgrading them into efficient and productive ones will help India realise its sustainable energy goals.

Please outline your growth plans for the Indian market. What are the likely areas that the company is looking at for expansion?

With the acquisition of Alstom, GE has a strong foothold in the power industryand our strategy will be to ensure robust growth in all the areas - coal, gas, hydro, wind. We have a solid localized footprint in the country, and a strong services footprint, with presence in all products and solutions across the energy value chain. The revision of environment control norms and new tariff policy are likely to open up opportunities for OEMs like us. Increasing focus on getting more out of the installed base will open of opportunities in retrofits and renovation & modernisation projects. As more and more renewables is added to the grid, there is also increased need for more flexible operations of coal powered plants and gencos are focused on improving the flexibility of their assets and in driving efficiency improvements over a range of operations. We also strongly believe in digitization, as that will be the biggest game changer for the power industry in the coming years. It will drive better outcomes in terms of efficiency, cost rationalisation, and optimum utilisation of resources. We are focused on how to get more efficiency, output and both longevity and servicing of the existing installed base. We also see a larger role of hydro pump storage projects as a possible solution to manage peak-hour energy requirements and grid stability, where issues may arise sue to the increasing share of renewables. Thus, we see an uptake in such hydro projects as well.

Do you think India is ready to achieve its gigantic 175 GW renewable energy target by 2022?

Renewable energy is fast emerging as a major source of power in India. Wind energy accounts for an estimated 60% of total installed capacity (21.1GW). There are plans to double wind power generation capacity to 20GW by 2022. India has also raised the solar power generation capacity addition target by five times to 100GW by 2022. With the costs declining by roughly 70 percent over the past 10 years, undoubtedly India will witness significant renewable capacity growth. At this pace, it is certainly possible for India to achieve its renewable energy targets. Having said that, it is equally essential to find the right balance between renewable and conventional power in order to maintain firm and reliable supply of power.The uncertainty and variability associated with renewables generation are creating operational and grid stability challenges. This will only get further accentuated as we add more of the targeted 175 GW of renewables. In order to fully utilize the power from these renewable sources, it needs to be complemented with commensurate amount of load balancing flexible generation capacity which can absorb the variability. With coal set to remain as India’s largest energy source through 2030 and beyond, GE’s leading steam technology and digital capabilities will be critical to achieving global greenhouse gas reduction targets set out at COP21. Renovating and modernizing (R&M) and Life Extension (LE) of existing old thermal power stations will also be a vital touchpoint. About 36 GW in India is more than 25 years old and needs to be replaced in phased manner while about 144 old thermal stations have been assigned mandatory targets for improving energy efficiency.

How can India use technology to reduce carbon emissions from thermal plants?

The government has already taken several initiatives to improve the efficiency of coal based power plants and to reduce its carbon footprint. The new emission standards for SOx, NOx, particulate matter and mercury have been notified for thermal plants. Earlier, there were no standards to curb emissions of SOx, NOx and mercury. The only standards that existed were for particulate matter, which were quite lax compared with the global norms. The new norms will also require restricted water consumption by power plants which can have a remarkable reduction in freshwater withdrawal by thermal power plants. The proposed changes, if implemented well, will go a long way in safeguarding public health and environment. GE’s repertoire of technology and solutions are designed to meet these specific needs. It includes some of the classic technology solutions like Flue Gas Desulfurization (FGD) for SOx removal, NID -a unique solution that helps in taking out sulphur from the environment and Low Lox burner technologies ike Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) to control NOx to name a few. The problem Indian industry is facing is that we have to achieve these pollution norms while making the power plants efficient. By definition, addressing pollution means you are losing efficiency as you are consuming auxiliary power and in that case, not only do you have capex, but also opex. At GE, we are constantly working on developing innovative solutions that not only addresses these broader issues of enhancing efficiency, flexibility and reliability factor of the equipment, solve the emission problems but also bring competitive value for our customers. Going forward, we also need to have a realistic discussion on some of the policies related to coal quality. Some of the imported coal has a lot of sulphur content which drives a lot of space requirement and huge investment. We need to discuss whether it is it better-off to use domestic coal instead of imported coal with its huge sulphur content. It can go a long way in addressing the emission issues related to sulphur.

How does GE plan to use its digital expertise and technology to transform the power and renewable sector in India? What are your primary digital offerings for the Indian market in the energy space?

Digitisation of the power sector will be the game changer that will transform the industry. It holds the key to meet all the power based challenges to deliver reliable, affordable, sustainable power, pull down costs, and lower overall carbon output. Digital transformation includes combination of technologies from cloud, analytics, mobile, to cheap sensors. As a part of its digital power plant vision, GE has been using real-time data analytics, increasingly available through cloud-based technologies that enable operators to more effectively manage real-time challenges, as well as predict actions needed to improve productivity and solve the problem of emissions in a much better way in real time. GE’s suite of digital technologies help plant operators make smarter decisions about how to optimally run their power plants, achieving better performance, greater efficiency and improved reliability while lowering environmental impact. One such example is the Digital Power Plant software that can reduce CO2 emissions from power plants by 3%. With GE’s advanced controls and cyber security software, the Digital Power Plant for Steam interprets data drawn from sensors across the power plant, highlights key factors that may affect performance (such as fuel quality, plant aging and ambient conditions) and takes appropriate action through a closed loop control system. GE Power’s new software can reduce CO2 emissions from those plants by 3% and reduce fuel consumption by 67,000 tons of coal per year with the same MW of output based on a 1,000 MW power plant. GE firmly believes that future of electricity lies in digital. Benefits from the digitization of electricity can be created at many points along the value network which in turn will help India’s utilities to boost their productivity while reducing their environmental impact and operating costs throughout the energy value chain. Can we put more from the first question back in here?

What is your outlook for the power sector in India in the wake of series of reforms and initiatives taken by the government such as UDAY and ‘Power for All’ by 2019?

The situation on ground continues to be challenging. The lack of demand from the industries and losses of electricity boards and distribution companies are affecting the overall performance of the power sector. The NPAs of the listed banks in the country at over 4 trillion has led to significant reduction in sectoral lending to power and infrastructure sector. Despite current weaknesses, the long term potential of the Indian power sector still remains intact. The government has taken some strong long term measures to inspire confidence in the sector. Initiatives like UDAY, Power for All, Integrated Power Distribution Scheme etc. if implemented well, will definitely reap results. These are long term reforms and it will be sometime before the situation improves.

Infraline Energy would like to thank the contributor for his/her valuable time and opinion shared on the topic.