Bioenergy has been gaining traction as a viable energy alternative primarily because it is sourced from relatively cleaner and replenishable biomass sources, and on the back of several policy and regulatory support initiatives from the government. The current installed biopower generation capacity stands at 10,001.11 MW. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has been promoting biomass power generation and bagasse cogeneration programmes with the aim of sourcing energy from biomass, including bagasse, agricultural residues, shells, husk, de-oiled cakes and wood from dedicated energy plantations. Other key sub-segments such as waste-to-energy (WtE) and bio-CNG have also seen growing interest.
An update on the key developments in the bio-power segment…
The main driver of the segment’s growth has been biomass cogeneration, which accounts for 9.2 GW of installed bio-power capacity. State-wise, over 500 biomass power and cogeneration projects with an aggregate installed capacity of 9,186.50 MW stood commissioned in Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Punjab (as of December 2019). The potential for power generation from agricultural and agro-industrial residues is estimated at about 18,000 MW. Further, surplus power generation potential through bagasse cogeneration in sugar mills is estimated at around 8,000 MW. The sugar industry has been traditionally practising incidental cogeneration by using bagasse as fuel for meeting steam and power requirements. With the advancement in boiler and turbine technologies for generation and utilisation of steam at high temperature and pressure, the sugar industry has been producing electricity and steam for its own requirements and selling surplus electricity to the grid by optimally utilising bagasse. The sale of surplus power generated through optimum cogeneration is helping the sugar industry to improve its viability and profitability, besides creating additional power generation capacity in the country. In May 2018, a scheme to support the promotion of biomass-based cogeneration in sugar mills and other industries (up to March 2020) was notified. The scheme has made a provision for central financial assistance (CFA) for projects utilising biomass such as bagasse, agro-based industrial residue, crop residues, wood produced through energy plantations, weeds and wood waste in industrial operations. However, municipal solid waste (MSW) has not been covered under this programme. The CFA under the scheme has been calculated for bagasse cogeneration projects at the rate of Rs 2.5 million per MW on surplus exportable capacity as mentioned in the power purchase agreement/appraisal report, only for plants that install new technology boilers and turbines.
According to the MNRE, the total estimated energy generation potential from urban and industrial organic waste in India is approximately 5,690 MW. However, only 201 WtE projects with a total capacity of 331 MW have been set up as of December 2019. In February 2020, the MNRE issued revised guidelines for the WtE scheme, a “programme on energy from urban, industrial, agricultural wastes or residues and municipal solid waste”. Superseding the previous guidelines of July 2018, the revised guidelines include MSW in the WtE programme. This has opened up a huge area of opportunity for both municipal corporations and private players. Further, a CFA of Rs 4,780 million, along with a physical target of 257 MW for the remaining period of 2019-20, has been granted for MSW-based WtE projects. Also, projects based on biomethanation, combustion, gasification, pyrolysis, or a combination thereof, or any new technology for WtE as approved by the MNRE shall be eligible for CFA.
One of the emerging segments that has gained traction is bio-compressed natural gas (bio-CNG), which is a purified form of biogas as all unwanted gases are removed to produce a high amount of pure methane gas. Due to its high level of methane and low level of carbon dioxide, bio-CNG is environment friendly with very low emission levels. Bio-CNG has commercial, industrial and automotive uses and can be used in restaurants, cement factories, public transport and CNG-fitted vehicles. It also holds promise for efficient management of MSW and for tackling the urban air pollution issue. At present, India has 17 bio-CNG producing plants. Bio-CNG has the potential to replace LPG and CNG at a utility-scale level owing to its renewable nature and abundance of biomass in the country. Biomass residue, which includes crop stubble being burnt, can be redirected to produce bio-CNG. However, bio-CNG production is still very low and is at present expensive, especially in terms of the capital costs involved in installing bio-CNG plants. During 2019-20 (till December 2019), six bio-CNG generation projects, with a cumulative installed capacity of 25,731 kg per day, have been installed. A major bio-CNG plant has been set up at Mahindra World City, Chennai, which is a joint corporate social responsibility initiative between Mahindra Research Valley and Mahindra World City Developers Limited.
Net, net, policy support, along with private investments, particularly in the upcoming bio-CNG and WtE segments, is required to provide the necessary thrust for the biopower segment to grow.