The biomass power generation capacity in India has rapidly grown over the last few years as the Indian government focuses on increasing power generation through renewable energy sources. As of December 31, 2017, the grid-connected biomass power generation capacity in India stood at 8.4 GW, up from 4.95 GW as of March 31, 2016. Going by the current growth rate in biomass power generation, India is likely to surpass the target of 10 GW by the end of the next fiscal year, way ahead of the target year of 2022. Moreover, the newly stipulated National Policy on Biofuels will provide a huge impetus to the growing bio-energy sector in India.
The share of biomass power generation capacity to total renewable power generation is just over 13 percent. Globally, the share of biomass in total renewable energy power is 14 percent, as per the latest report from the World Bioenergy Association.
The bio-power sector in India has picked up the pace in the last two years and even surpassed the annual targets set by the government. While India’s clean energy sector missed its capacity addition target for the second year in a row owing to lapses in solar (roof-top) and wind energy sectors, its bio-power capacity for 2017-18 stood at 519 MW against the target of 340 MW. Industry players believe biomass power production is crucial for the country when it’s starring at piling municipal and agricultural waste across India.
Utilization of biomass for power generation is the need of the hour as it solves two major challenges facing the country – power deficit and waste management. As a country, India produces 1,50,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste per day. While recycling and segregation can help, they barely scratch the surface. There is a need to safely dispose of the existing trash – biodegradable or not. While setting up more biomass power generation remains a viable option for processing and disposal of waste, the immediacy of the problem has necessitated evolving a mix of quick as well as long-term solutions.
Setting up newer biomass plants would have longer gestation periods. In that regard, there is significant focus on co-firing of biomass in existing conventional thermal power plants.
Energy from biomass is reliable as it is free of fluctuation and does not need storage. However, it is not the preferred renewable energy source due to unavailability of the biomass supply chain on a yearly basis. Biomass from agriculture is available only after the harvesting period, which stretches only for 2-3 months in a year. Thus, there is a need to procure and then store the required quantity of biomass within this stipulated time. Biomass power generation has long been promoted in the country as a pathway for generation of renewable energy and allied benefits.
However, the biofuels programme in India has been largely impacted due to the sustained and quantum non-availability of domestic feedstock for biofuel production, which needs to be addressed. The need now is to ramp up efforts in this direction, especially in streamlining the biomass supply chain.
Biofuel in India is of strategic importance as it augers well with the ongoing initiatives of the Government such as Make in India, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and skill development, and offers great opportunity to integrate with the ambitious targets of doubling of farmers’ income, import reduction, employment generation, and waste-to-wealth creation.
The National Policy on Bio-fuels, approved by the Union Cabinet recently, will provide a huge impetus to the small but growing bio-energy sector in India. The policy that calls for usage and production of ethanol from damaged food grains and farm products has paved way for optimal utilization of agricultural waste to produce bio-power. The policy, for the first time, provides a viable framework for the bio-energy sector in India. It has also made provisions to convert waste/plastic and municipal solid waste to fuel. It will play a crucial role for India in achieving the target of 10 GW of biomass power by 2022.
India produces a substantial amount of municipal waste and agricultural residue. There is a growing consensus among industry players and policy makers to look for ways of efficiently disposing of this waste and creating value out of it. However, such projects/plants need infrastructure for large-scale and environmentally safe processing of waste. Often, waste management companies willing to undertake projects/infrastructure development are faced with unrealistic expectations and financial uncertainties. With the National Biofuel Policy, the government has essentially given impetus for more investment from the private players in the sector.
The policy will encourage setting up of supply chain and procurement mechanisms for bio-mass plants. Apart from energy generation, these residues can be harnessed to produce solid bio-fuels such as bio pellets that can effectively replace LPG, diesel, and other fossil fuel-based systems across a broad spectrum of applications. This will also play a crucial role for India in achieving the target of 10 GW of biomass power by 2022.
Aditya Handa is MD and CEO of Abellon CleanEnergy Ltd, an integrated sustainable energy solutions provider.