Remarks by Gurdeep Singh: “NTPC will play a leading role in the country’s energy transition”

NTPC is at the forefront of implementing new initiatives for facilitating the energy transition in the country. It has been working aggressively in the renewable energy segment as well as increasing its presence in areas such as green hydrogen, carbon capture and nuclear power. At the same time, the country’s biggest thermal power generator is making its units more flexible and working towards emissions reduction. At the India Infrastructure Forum 2023, Gurdeep Singh, chairman and managing director, NTPC Limited, spoke about the company’s plans, targets and initiatives in the pipeline. He also shared his perspective on the power sector, going forward. Edited excerpts…

The energy requireme­nt is going to increase very sharply. This can only be met by adopting all possible sources of energy. Renewable energy is taking centre stage and there is an agg­ressive push for capacity addition. For this, energy storage is a must, and this is expected to become affordable and viable in the next decade. Energy storage is expected to gain prominence across Ba­ttery Energy Storage Systems, Pump­ed Storage and Hydrogen.

There is also going to be a focus on energy conservation and energy efficiency, not only on the consumption side but on the electricity supply side as well. Whi­le there will be a thrust on utility-sc­ale solar, decentralised and distributed generation, including rooftop solar, will also gain momentum. More importantly, coal is going to stay for a few decades. I wish gas would also become available for the power sector, which has been in short supply for the last two decades. Apart from this, there is a growing realisation that nuclear power generation will be useful to meet the base load and increasing energy needs. There is also going to be a greater focus on a circular economy, which is essential for the energy sector. The use of biomass in the most beneficial way and recycling of municipal solid waste will gain traction going forward. Incidentally, NTPC has already demonstrated these projects.

Plans and targets for non-fossil-fuel-based energy

By 2030, we should have almost 50 per cent (or more) of our installed capacity from non-fossil fuel sources. We are working aggressively in the renewable energy segment and should be able to achieve our initial target of 60 GW of renewable capacity by 2032. We have around 3.5 GW of operational renewable energy capacity, while 5-6 GW of capacity is under construction right now and another 7 GW is at various sta­ges of development.

We are also creating an inventory of 1-2 GW of renewable energy capacity as a merchant capacity without waiting to sign power purchase agreements. We ha­ve already started working with Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited in a joint venture for the development of two projects. We are targeting to commission these projects by 2030-31.

Outlook for thermal power generation

We are the country’s leading company to demonstrate that thermal power plants can operate at 55 per cent load. Inci­den­tally, we started this journey long back and, with due credit to our engineers, we could demonstrate the flexibility at all our generating units starting from our first unit at the Singrauli Super Thermal Power Station, which is around 41 years old, to the newer units. As the next stage, we are exploring ways to go even further down. However, as a country, we also need to start looking at things differently, as to whether there can be some storage solution that can be integrated into the system for taking care of the load during the off-peak season. For the last 10 years or so, we have been developing supercritical units, which are much more efficient than subcritical ones. However, efficiency takes a hit at low-load operations.

Recently, the Ministry of Power notified a policy wherein, under flexibilisation, we can despatch renewable energy ins­te­ad of firing coal. Overall, with the em­ergence of various options to manage low-load op­erations, we will be able to take care of grid security while ensuring adequate availability of affordable power.

Rather than decommissioning thermal power plants, we should really focus on improving their efficiency and flexibility by carrying out renovation and modernisation (R&M).  The plant load factors (PLFs) should not be considered for evaluating the performance of thermal power plants. In fact, declining PLFs are not bad; rather, what is more important is that power should be available whenever required. As long as the thermal po­wer units are complying with the environmental norms and are operating efficiently, we should not be in a hurry to decommission them, even if they run for two to three months in a year to meet the peak power requirement.

Incidentally, PLFs have started inc­rea­si­ng, after hitting an all-time low. We have around 75 per cent PLF at present. While clearly higher PLFs are achievable, anything more than around 80 per cent will mean that the energy transition is getting de­­layed. In the next decade or so, PLFs sh­­­­ould be coming down to the range of 60.

At NTPC, we are on track to commission flue gas desulphurisation systems and meet the emission norms for SOx and NOx. We are doing everything that is technically possible to reduce emissions. With emission reduction initiatives and aggressive capacity addition from non-fossil fuel sources, we should be able to reduce our emissions per unit of electricity by almost 10 per cent by 2030. We are also in discussions with different technology providers for small modular reactors (SMRs). These have not been commissioned anywhere yet. However, there is a strong possibility that they will beco­me a reality soon. We have some thermal power plants that are the right candidates to be replaced with SMRs as and when they are available. For SMRs, the exclusion area required is not more than 1 km, which is available in the case of thermal power plants.

Green hydrogen

On the hydrogen side, we have already carried out one pilot project, which has started producing hydrogen from the flo­­ating solar project on the reservoir of our Kawas power plant. Green hydrogen is being blended in the PNG network and is being utilised in our township itself. Apart from this, in Leh, by Sep­tem­ber or October this year, we will be running two buses that will be purely powered by hydrogen. In addition, we are in discussions with the Indian Army for the deployment of a 24×7 renewable energy-powered grid in far-flung areas, almost a microgrid.

A major thrust to our green hydrogen initiatives will come from the 5 GW re­ne­wable energy park that we are developing in Khavada in Gujarat. This will be one major area for green hydrogen production. Also, in Andhra Prade­sh, we are developing a hydrogen hub across 1,200 acres of land, which will ha­ve an entire ecosystem for green hydrogen, in addition to its production.

NTPC will play a leading role in the energy transition of the country as we are doing for power generation. We are wor­king on all fronts for the energy transition, including the development of solar power, green hydrogen and en­ergy storage. We are preparing our gas-based po­wer plants to make them suitable for firing green hydrogen. How­ever, it is going to take a little longer time. We are also ex­ploring the possibility of green hydrogen production from biomass and mu­ni­cipal solid waste, wherein you can ge­nerate hydrogen, which would also be considered green hydrogen.

We have already started working on a carbon capture and utilisation pilot project. This is being taken up at the Vindhyachal thermal power plant. We have already co­mmissioned a carbon capture plant and our green hydrogen plant is near completion. With carbon dioxide and gr­een hy­drogen, we will be producing green me­tha­nol (10 TPD). We are trying to commi­ssion the project by the year-end.