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We need more power at right price to avoid grid turbulence, Banmali Agrawala, President & CEO, GE Energy India

22 Nov 2012

It started operations in India with the country’s first hydropower plant in 1902.Today all of GE’s global businesses have a presence in India and its revenues in the country are approximately $2.8 billion. Banmali Agrawala, President & CEO, GE Energy India, spoke to Pallavi Chakravorty about the company’s focus areas in the Indian market. Edited excerpts:

What has been GE’s biggest success in India in the past one year?

We stayed focused on speeding up localisation of capability by building tailored solutions for the market place. Globally, last year, we acquired Dresser Inc., Lineage Power Holdings and Converteam. These acquisitions have strengthened our core capabilities and added to our offerings. Last year we introduced the FlexEfficiency 50 technology in India, a global product engineered to meet the environmental regulations and grid conditions of all major markets including India.

The recent focus on higher efficiency thermal products in India, allowed us to introduce our latest generation 660 and 800 mw supercritical steam turbine technology here. This technology is extremely flexible and can be customised to deliver optimal performance with a variety of boiler conditions.

Also, in early 2011, in line with our commitment, we set up our local assembly wind unit in Pune. It assembles our 1.5 -77, 1.6-82.5 and 1.6 -100 models of wind turbines, which are most suitable for India’s low wind environment. We have also set up a validation laboratory to support the repair and calibration of Kaye range of products, at Electronics City, Bangalore.

GE is investing $200 million in its first manufacturing facility in India at Pune. What will be its main features?

We have announced that our new manufacturing facility in Pune would develop localised products and solutions for the energy sector in its first phase of operations commencing in 2013. The facility will focus on energy products and technologies, oil and gas as well as measurement and control. In addition, we will package our environment-friendly technologies such as hybrid batteries for energy storage and biogas power generation technologies at the plant. The site will enable assembly and production support for any GE business that needs local manufacturing capability in India.

You are also into manufacturing nuclear reactors, how has Fukushima affected your business?

We remain supportive of a broad range of energy technologies, which includes nuclear. In fact, we are pursuing new nuclear reactor opportunities in countries such as Poland, India, and Finland, while also supporting our partner Hitachi in its plans to bring nuclear power to Lithuania. In India, we are actively working on all phases of our nuclear project that we are allowed until the few remaining issues between the governments are resolved. Nuclear energy can help India meet the pressing need for clean, base load power. Fukushima was an accident and we don’t want to comment on it.

How can the issue of grid indiscipline by states be addressed?

We need to look at the root cause of grid failure rather than just treating the symptom of grid collapse. And the root cause is clearly the basic shortfall in power generation. Unless and until more power is produced and right prices recovered from consumers, the system will keep getting vulnerable. While this may be treated as a long-term plan, on an immediate basis a strict guideline on ensuring grid discipline would be required to check overdrawing of power.

Though we are adding some features of a smart grid, we still are a long way off from completely shifting to a smart grid. What are the benefits of having a smart grid?

Through modernisation of infrastructure and efficient demand side management, the smart grid will play an important role in addressing all the issues, while reducing the AT&C losses, and improving delivery efficiencies.

How has GE Energy been affected by the problems plaguing the power sector?

While there is shortage on the gas front, the sector continues to present several opportunities. Our wind business is strong as is our water and process technologies business where we see ‘waste water’ as a very important and high growth area for the industrial and municipal sector. There is water scarcity in many areas and regulation enforcement along with the emergence of newer technologies would be a driver for ‘waste water’ in this sector. We see opportunities in power conversion in the mining and steel sectors and there is plenty to do in the grid automation industry. GE India has also acquired a majority stake in Advanced Systek Pvt. Ltd., and this acquisition will provide us an opportunity to enter into the terminal automation and metering skids space.

Advanced Systek’s electronic flow measurement devices and automation software will complement GE Energy’s existing strength in measurement instrumentation, diagnostics and performance optimisation, to create an overall solutions business with strong local capabilities.

India’s poor infrastructure has always been a cause of concern for foreign players. How do you think can this be improved, both in terms of investments and policies?

With India emerging as a global power, it should aim to (a) ensure that there is availability of fuel, both coal and gas (b) address the financial health of SEBs (c) not look at load shedding as an instrument to manage the grid.

GE has had a particular strength in gas turbines, and has been investing in new FlexEfficiency products designed to allow rapid ramp-up and down in power output. Are you targeting the technology in India as well?

The FlexEfficiency 50 combined cycle power plant is rated under ISO conditions at 510 mw output at an efficiency of 61 per cent. It can run on natural gas or distillate oil to generate power. Conventional gas turbine-based power plants are designed for base-load applications, whereas aero-derivative / reciprocating engine technology is commonly deployed in peaking plants. These technologies are distinct in their design and operating / maintenance parameters.

However, with the sheer diversity of power sources that feed today’s grid / or are being planned in the next 20 years, gas-based power plant operators need to have a technology that gives them the economics of a base-load operation and the flexibility of a peak power plant as required. Our FE 50 is designed to deliver an unprecedented combination of both. We drew from the company’s jet engine expertise to engineer a plant that will ramp up at a rate of more than 50 mw per minute, twice the rate of today’s industry benchmarks.

Operational flexibility at these levels will enable utilities to deliver power quickly when it is needed and to ramp down when it is not, balancing the grid cost effectively and helping to deploy additional renewable power resources like wind and solar. This technology is relevant to India’s power sector in two ways (1) As gas prices rise, and tariffs become more competitive on the grid, technology efficiency will play a key role in balancing the cost of power generated. (2) As specific states increase the deployment of grid-connected renewable energy (wind and solar), grid stability at the state or regional level will become a concern.

Specifically in states such as Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Gujarat (wind) and Rajasthan (solar), there is heavy deployment of renewables. Having flexible technology for base load gas projects will allow for a higher renewable penetration with stable grid operation as this technology will enable gas plants on base load to operate seamlessly as peak plants in high renewable days/season.

Like in China, India too is facing a dearth of gas supplies, though you have been investing massively in gas technology. Isn’t it a risk as the market is yet to expand?

Not at all. The economic environment, across the world, continues to be challenging and is likely to be for some time including in India. But power is fundamental to industrial growth. Secure India’s energy future calls for an enabling policy and regulatory framework which could sustain energy supply to meet demand.

What is your focus in India?

We would continue to be committed to being a growth partner to India. We serve the energy sector with technologies in areas as natural gas, oil, coal and nuclear energy; wind, solar, biogas and water processing; energy management; and grid modernisation. We also offer integrated solutions to serve energy and water-intensive industries such as mining, metals, marine, petrochemical, food and beverage and unconventional fuels and we shall continue to drive a focused approach on this mix in 2012 and going forward.

(InfralineEnergy thanks Banmali Agrawala, President & CEO, GE Energy India for sharing his valuable insights with our readers. The column 'In-Conversation', is a platform to engage experts from various sectors to share their views on the different transformations happening in the Indian energy sector.)