The Essar Group awaits final approval from the Cabinet to clear forests at the Mahan coal block in Madhya Pradesh where it is building a power plant. But if the company is not in a position to supply coal from its mines, it will have to import coal.There has been a hue and cry for a long time now over the acute coal scarcity since the nation's demand for electricity is fulfilled to a great extent by thermal power and nearly 80 per cent of the coal supply is used for power generation. Total coal production has increased nearly sevenfold between 1980 and 2010 and India, despite having one of the world's largest reserves and being the third-largest coal producing country in the world after China and USA, is forced to import expensive coal to fuel its power plants. Estimates place the imports at over 70 million tonnes a year.Now just as coal extraction is vital, improving operational efficiencies, like another side of the same coin, is just as important. At a time when efforts are being made to bridge the demand-supply gap, most coal-based power plants in India are operating at lower efficiency rates in comparison to power plants in some other countries. Indigenous coal due to high ash content puts a strain on machinery during the combustion process. So we must not lose sight of globally benchmarked technologies that can help increase efficiencies and will result in reduction in operational costs and coal consumption. One of the technologies that can help us achieve this is supercritical technology. Power plants that employ the technology can achieve higher efficiencies, above 45 per cent as compared to conventional subcritical units, which achieve about 30 per cent and (as an added bonus) reduce our carbon footprint. Now in this India could do well to emulate neighbour China, which too like India, relies on about 70 per cent of its total energy consumption from coal. But this is where the similarity ends since China learnt early on that widespread commercial exploitation of coal led to severe air pollution. It not only successfully adopted ultra-supercritical technology (USCT) but it is now said that it costs a third less to build an USCT plant in China than to build a less efficient coal-fired plant in the US. So it made the transition from being a technology user to a manufacturer.The Industrial Revolution (which began in the 18th Century) was based on the availability of coal to power steam engines. India will, similarly, need another revolution – to improve efficiencies – through supercritical technology. While there have been some measures taken by some companies, such as BHEL and NTPC, and officials have said that supercritical power projects will get linkages to coal mines on a priority basis over projects that are based on sub-critical technology, more widespread measures are required to solve the purpose.Your feedback is important to us. Write to us at feedback@ASAPPmedia.com.
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