The Sunday Leader

COAL PLANT POWERS UP 40% OF NATIONAL GRID

  • Norochcholai plans to increase output to 900 MW by end July 2014

By Faraz Shauketaly

The controversial Norochcholai Power Plant has been confirmed to be operating as expected and is currently producing 600 MW of power – or the equivalent of 40% of the national grid. Confirming this state of affairs, Ministry of Power & Energy Secretary M. M. C. Ferdinando said that “Phase 3 is expected to come on line by the end of July 2014 which will then mean that Norochcholai Power Plant would be producing up to 55% of the National Grid.”
The additional 300 MW in July 2014 will result in a total production of 900 MW from the plant. The plant based near Puttalam, is now producing a steady 600 MW of power.

Coupled with the international benchmark price for coal, the cost savings to the CEB is significant. The true cost of a unit of power supplied through Norochcholai has come down tremendously given the fact that by end of July 900 MW will be generated and that the price of coal has come down too. “The price level of coal has also eased the cash flow requirements of the CEB,” said Mr Ferdinando.

The cost per unit is at Rs 7.55 and with loan repayments it is said to be Rs 9.41 in comparison to IPP thermal costs of an average of Rs 25 and a high of Rs 35. According to analysts this has largely contributed to the profitability of the CEB.

An industry analyst stated that a country can first provide cheap electricity for its peak demand by using cheaper methods such as coal whilst looking at environmentally friendly options to complete the energy mix. They claim that in a list of countries by 2010 emissions, China was 26.43% of the world’s emissions, USA 17.33%, EEC 13.33%, India 6.41%, Russia 5.55%, Japan 3.73%, Germany 2.38% and Sri Lanka is as low as 0.04%, possibly redirecting the debate on whether Sri Lanka can rely on ever-increasing coal power plants and still maintain its low emission levels.

India has a total coal capacity of 125,832 MW – this is astronomical in comparison to our 900 MW at Puttalam. India has 245 GW of installed electricity capacity – mostly in Coal powered plants, which is the primary source of energy. In 2011 India was the 4th largest energy consumer in the world behind USA, China and Russia.

An industry observer on grounds of anonymity maintained that while the contention that ‘the rest of the world is getting out of coal and getting into environmentally friendlier inputs’ was true, the fact remained that their base power is supplied by a cheaper source such as coal.

“India is an example where the coal content is over 40% – it is easy for a country of that nature to then look at more environmentally friendly inputs. Sri Lanka is still at the beginning of providing cheap electricity.

Hence, coal is a vital input in order to provide cheaper electricity to homes and industry which will thereby increase exports and our GDP in general. It is important to note that Sri Lanka is a small island and those individuals who speak of bio mass and the likes as an alternative to cheaper inputs such as coal forget the fact that we would have to grow acres upon acres of forests – to provide electricity to our country’s requirement,” he noted.

Meanwhile Chairman of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) W.B. Ganegala admitted that hydro is the cheapest form but with the weather patterns having been as they have (very little rain) priority is given to drinking water and agricultural requirements as opposed to water for the hydro plants. The huge cost of imported fuel has meant that the reliance at a level of 58% on thermal power has been a huge cost to the CEB.

Ganegala confirmed that regular weekly meetings take place between the CEB and officials of the Mahaweli Authority as well as the Agriculture Department in order to decide on the energy mix. It is at these meetings that the priority being given to water for drinking and agricultural purposes instead of hydro, is decided on – especially when the reservoir levels are not as high.

Adding that the NCPP plant is giving a steady output of 600 MW and that Phase Three will provide a further 300 MW bringing the total at Norochcholai to 900 MW, Ganegala opined that the mix of introducing 900 MW to the grid of coal-based power was an important one in terms of finances: the average cost of a unit of coal-powered energy being Rs 9.41 as opposed to the thermal units on an average of between Rs 25 and Rs 35 per unit.

He pointed out that although the average cost was Rs 23.30, a unit was being sold at an average of Rs 15. Highlighting the availability of power around the nation, he maintained that with an ‘electricity availability’ of around 96% to 97% Sri Lanka was one of the highest in the region.

Indian power

The electricity sector in India had an installed capacity of 245.394 GW as of end April 2014, the world’s fourth largest. Captive power plants generate an additional 39.375 GW. Non Renewable Power Plants constitute 87.55% of the installed capacity, and Renewable Power Plants constitute the remaining 12.45% of total installed capacity. India generated around 911 BU (911,652 MU i.e. 911 TWh) of electricity (excluding electricity generated from renewable and captive power plants) during the 2012–13 fiscal year. The total annual generation of electricity from all types of sources was 1053.9 TeraWatt-hours (TWh) in 2012.

In terms of fuel, coal-fired plants account for 59% of India’s installed electricity capacity, compared to South Africa’s 92%; China’s 77%; and Australia’s 76%. After coal, renewable hydropower accounts for 17%, renewable energy for 12% and natural gas for about 9%.

In December 2011, over 300 million Indian citizens had no access to frequent electricity. Over one third of India’s rural population lacked electricity, as did 6% of the urban population. Of those who did have access to electricity in India, the supply was intermittent and unreliable. In 2010, blackouts and power shedding interrupted irrigation and manufacturing across the country. States such as Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and others provide continuous power supply.

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