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Thermal Power Plant Emission Guidelines – New deadline issued by Union Environment Ministry

Thermal Power Plant Emission Guidelines – New deadline issued by Union Environment Ministry

Relevance:

  • GS 3 || Economy || Infrastructure || Power & Energy

Why in the news?

The MOEF&CC has recently extended the timelines for the majority of coal-based power plants in India to comply with the emission norms by another three-four years. This is the third amendment to the notification that first came in 2015.

Thermal Power Plants in India:

  • Thermal power plants generate electricity by using heat from a fuel source.
  • The heat usually generates steam in a boiler which is then used to run a steam turbine connected to a generator.
  • They are classified according to the heat source such as coal-fired, gas, diesel, liquid fuel, etc.
  • India primarily uses three types of thermal power plants: coal, gas and liquid fuel.
  • According to the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), as of now India has a total 269 thermal power plants.

Significance:

  • Coal based power plants have dominated the power supply mix in India since the 1980s.
  • As of now, around 56% of India’s total installed capacity, 365 GW, was coal based and these thermal power stations (TPSs) accounted for 75% of the total electricity generation in the country.

The coal based power plants have following rationale:

  • Abundance of coal reserves: India has one of the largest coal reserves in the world and thus, it seeks to leverage the coal reserves through a massive chain of coal fired power plants.
  • One of the greatest advantages of coal fired plants is reliability. Coal’s ability to supply power during peak power demand either as base power or as off-peak power is greatly valued as a power plant fuel.
  • Energy produced from coal fired plants is cheaper and more affordable than other energy sources
  • Technological know-hows: The production and use of coal as a fuel are well understood, and the technology required in producing it is constantly advancing. Moreover, coal-mining techniques are continuously enhanced to ensure that there is a constant supply of coal for the production of power and energy.
  • Generally, coal fired plants are considered safer than other type of power plants. A coal power plant’s failure is certainly not likely to cause catastrophic events such as a nuclear meltdown would.

Location factors of Power Plants:

The major factors taken into consideration while locating a thermal power plant are:

  • Geographical terrain: The coal based power plants are often set up in locations of plain areas. The area must have an abundance of raw materials such as coal, diesel, etc.
  • Availability of Fuel and Water (raw materials): The fuel and water are two most important factors in production of electricity from coal. Thus, the coastal areas are also suitable for coal fired plants.
  • Proximity to population areas (market): Since the electricity also faces transmission losses, the coal fired plants are ideally located around the market, I, e populated areas.
  • Accessibility and connectivity: The coal fired plants work 24*7 which requires constant monitoring and intervention. Therefore, the accessibility of the location is a very important deterring factor in coal based power plants.

Emission caused by thermal power plants:

  • The coal-fired power generation is considered as one of the major sources of environmental pollution in India.
  • Of the total environmental pollution in 2016, the power sector reportedly accounted for 51% of SO2, 43% of carbon dioxide (CO2), 20% of oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and 7% of PM2.5 emissions.
  • The mercury content in Indian coal ranges between 0.01 ppm and 1.1 ppm. As mercury boils at low temperatures, thermal power plants emit 90 % of its mercury into air and 10% to land.
  • The coal-based thermal power sector in India is one of the country’s biggest emitters of CO2.
  • It emits 1.1 giga-tonne of CO2 every year; this is 2.5% of global GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions, one-third of India’s GHG emissions, and around 50% of India’s fuel-related CO2

Impacts:

The economic- environmental impacts of coal fired plants are enormous. They are already the biggest source of GHGs. Other socio economic and environmental impacts of coal based power plants  are the following:

  • Causes respiratory ailments:
  • Affects historical heritage structures:
  • Causes climate change:
  • Affects water quality and thus reduces quantity available for human consumption:
  • Affects fishing as hot water let into sea kills or causes migration of marine species:
  • Limits crop cultivation due to increase in alkalinity of soil:
  • Limits crop cultivation as land available for agriculture reduced:
  • Affects plant growth:
  • Affects livelihood for farmers and fishermen:
  • Increases risk of accidents due to hazardous working conditions:

Measures taken by the government:

  • Flue Gas Desulphurisation (FGD): To curtail SOX emission from power plants, various types of Flue Gas Desulphurisers (FGDs) are being installed before the inlet of power plant stack. FGD removes SOx content from flue gas using various chemical processes.
  • Electro-Static Precipitators (ESPs) to control Particulate Matter (PM): Electro-Static Precipitators (ESPs) are deployed for control of particulate matter (PM) in thermal power stations.
  • Installation of Low NOx burners: The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) has suggested the government to install low NOX burners to reduce the Nitrogen Oxides emission from the coal based power plants.
  • “Environment (Protection) Amendment Rules, 2015 : These rules for thermal power stations notified by MoEFCC on 7th December, 2015 specify limits in respect of four pollutants as well as specific water consumption. These rules are the core of emission regulatory framework for the coal fired power plants.
  • India’s NDCs: In its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), India has made several commitments which will benefit the improvement of the coal fired power sector. For eg: India’s commitment to improve the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33–35% by 2030 over 2005 levels as well as increasing the share of non-fossil fuels-based electricity to 40% by 2030 will have positive impacts.

Challenges:

  • Massive investment needed: Most of the coal fired power plants are equipped with obsolete technology causing heavy emission. In order to completely overhaul them, massive capital investment is required.
  • Low enforcement of environmental regulatory laws: According to TERI, the power plants hardly pay attention to the regulatory rules. Most of the power plants are operating flouting the rules.
  • Already stressed power sector: Due to already high financial stress in the power sector, the fresh investment in the sector is rare which is very crucial for upgradation or renovation of the existing power plants.
  • Slower adoption of technology: The Indian power plants have been relatively slow in adopting modern technologies for reducing emission from the power plants.
  • Economic compulsion: The electricity generated from coal is cheaper and affordable. Even though some power plants want to upgrade to cleaner versions, due to economic compulsions they can’t!

Way forward:

Given the immediate need of stopping emission from coal fired power plants, following measures may help.

  • Efficiency of coal based power plants: The power sector is over leveraged as of now and this is the right time to make a green audit of the power plants. Only those plants can be allowed to operate which fulfils certain conditions for emission control parameters. Government can also offer financial help to those willing to upgrade their facilities.
  • Financial incentives for improvers : The government should provide genuine incentives to those power plants which work on their emission control measures. These can be in form of tax breaks, low rate of fuel supply, concession on captive mining etc.
  • More investment in R&D and engineering solutions: The government needs to spend more on engineering solutions of reducing emissions from coal based power plans. Technologies, like Flue Gas Desulphurisation (FGD), Electro-Static Precipitators (ESPs) etc, need to be made more affordable for power sector companies.
  • Regulatory laws to enable power plants to reduce their emission: There must be convergence among various regulatory laws whose culminate impact would be reduced emissions.
  • Reform power sector: There is a need to reform the power sector so that fresh investment can come to the sector improving its emission performance.
  • Focus over Carbon Capture, and Storage technologies: The industry and government should work together to develop new technologies in carbon capture and storage technologies which do not only help the coal power sector to reduce emission but also help India to achieve its NDC within stipulated time period.

Model Mains Question:

  1. In the context of the coal based power sector, explain the dilemma of India to have affordable power supply on one hand and the clean environment on the other. How can India resolve this dilemma? Give suggestions.