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A resource and technology assessment of coal utilisation in India

Forming part of a wider series, this paper explores strategies for reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from coal-powered electricity. It reviews coal utilisation in India and examines current and emerging coal power technologies with near- and long-term potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from coal power generation.

Key points highlighted include:

  • India has significant coal resources, but there is considerable uncertainty about the coal reserve estimates. Without improvements in coal technology and economics, existing new power plants added in the next 10–15 years could consume most of India’s extractable coal over the course of the plants’ estimated 40- to 50-year lifespans
  • nearly all Indian coal power plants rely on one technology for converting coal to electricity: steam-based subcritical pulverised coal (PC). While the unit size and efficiency of Indian coal power plants have improved over the years, the basic technology has remained the same for nearly three decades
  • although the efficiency of coal-based power plants in India has improved in recent years, the average net efficiency of the entire fleet of coal power plants in the country is only 29%. The poor efficiency in India is blamed on a variety of technical and institutional factors such as poor quality of coal
  • many advanced power-generation technologies are under consideration for the Indian power sector, including supercritical PC, circulating fluidised-bed combustion, and integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC).

The authors conclude that it is far from clear what the appropriate technology choices might be for India, as all of the current and emerging technologies worldwide have their strengths and limitations. Therefore, it is critical for policy makers not only to consider and implement technologies that meet the near-term needs of the country, but also to set the coal-based power sector on a path that would allow it to better respond to future challenges, including the key challenge of reducing GHG emissions. However, it will be necessary for India to undertake a systematic analysis of the various technical options best suited to the country’s unique characteristics, and an analysis of the best approaches for deployment.