With a large part of the country´s population involved in agriculture, biomass energy has the potential to grow by leaps and bounds.
Biomass could ideally be a potential source of a constant supply of renewable energy across India. What´s more important, around 60,000 villages in India are still not connected to the national grid, and biomass could become a source of distributed renewable power across the vast rural hinterland. Biomass gasification has another important attribute: it has the ability to operate at very low scales.
On the face of it, these attributes of biomass energy should make policymakers promoting this source of energy compared to the alternatives. However, experts and entrepreneurs have been cautioning that most of the 10 MW biomass power plants set up across the country are now on the verge of closing down because of unavailability of a steady supply of feedstock.
Environmental concerns globally are also threatening the growth of this sector. Stanford University has published a study that indicates that 5 to 10 per cent of worldwide air pollution mortalities are due to biomass burning.
But India cannot afford to ignore the huge potential that biomass energy offers, considering the fact that around 70 per cent of the population still lives in rural areas and the country producing around 350 million tonnes of agricultural waste is generated on an annual basis. Research indicates that the total installed capacity of biomass-based power in India is around 2,600 MW. Bagasse-power generation corners the major share (approximately 1,400 MW), followed by combustion-based biomass power production (875 MW) and biogasification contributes around 140 MW. Theoretically, the total biomass energy production potential has been estimated at around 17,000 MW.
The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has rolled out a number of programmes for development of biomass energy generation. According to government estimates, a total of 288 biomass power and cogeneration projects aggregating to 2665 MW capacity have been installed in the country for feeding power to the grid consisting of 130 biomass power projects aggregating to 999 MW and 158 bagasse cogeneration projects in sugar mills with surplus capacity aggregating to 1666 MW.
The Central government provides Central Financial Assistance and fiscal incentives for biomass power projects and bagasse co-generation projects. In addition, biomass power generation projects are also eligible for accelerated depreciation benefits, 10-year tax holidays, customs/excise duty exemptions and sales tax waivers in certain States. IREDA (Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency) also provides loans for setting up biomass power and bagasse co-generation plants.
As mentioned earlier, the production of power from agricultural biomass will not be perennial, because biomass can be accumulated only after the harvesting season. Further, Indian agricultural is dominated by small and marginal farmers, who operate from defragmented land holdings, so collection of bio-waste for further processing has been a difficult task. Low mechanisation in Indian agricultural operations as compared to developed countries also acts as a barrier for treatment, processing and transportation of bio-waste.
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