Coal shortage prompts change in power plant design

| | Updated on: May 12, 2011
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To stave off a domestic coal shortage crisis, power utilities across the country have been instructed to make design changes in all future coal-fired projects.

The move is aimed at enabling higher imported coal blending in these projects, amid a domestic coal crisis that is worsening by the day.

For consumers, though, the prospect of higher imported coal use in future projects could mean costlier power in the coming years.

In a missive, the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) has asked all power generators, developers and equipment manufacturers to ensure that the boilers for future projects are designed to permit blending of at least 30 per cent imported coal, up from 10-15 per cent permissible in the boilers currently used in domestic power stations.

The new stipulation by the apex planning body in the power sector, besides prescribing changes in boiler design and auxiliaries, asks developers to modify facilities for unloading, handling and blending of high-calorific imported coal at new project sites.

The CEA has issued the advisory to four Central utilities, including power major NTPC Ltd, five equipment manufacturers including BHEL and L&T Power, a total of 37 State Governments and State-sector utilities, and 66 private power developers.

The new stipulation is being seen as a tacit admission of continuing problems envisaged in domestic coal supplies, analysts said. The advisory comes at a time when the country is staring at the prospect of stranded capacity adding up to 42,000 MW by 2016-17, based on projected shortages in domestic coal production.

Higher generation costs

Also, blending of costlier imported coal involves a trade-off in terms of higher generation costs, something that NTPC is already grappling with.

Officials with NTPC said the company is currently blending about 10 per cent imported coal at its power stations to tide over the deficit, resulting in an average 30 paisa increase in the price per unit (kilowatt hour).

“But with the continuing (domestic) shortages, there seems to be no way out,” a senior NTPC official said. Representatives of Tata Power and Lanco said while design changes are the most feasible option for the future, a simultaneous thrust to improve domestic coal availability is also warranted.

There are technical limitations to blending high-calorific imported coal in the boilers typically used in most domestic projects.

A CEA official said design changes to permit higher blending of imported coal can be easily executed without major cost implications, especially since the design change is being standardised for utilities across the country.

Coal-fired generation projects cumulatively adding up to 62,680 MW are slated to come up over the next five years, requiring an additional 313 million tonnes of coal.

Against this, incremental coal availability indicated by Coal India Ltd is only 100 million tonnes.

Published on May 17, 2011

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