Current state of Biomass Power in India
- Most biomass power plants in India have either shut down or are running at very low capacities due to non-availability of feedstock.
- A 1 MW plant would need, depending on calorific value, between 8000-10,000 tons of biomass feedstock p.a.
- Biomass power plants are facing severe competition from industries which are switching to use of biomass as fuel in boilers.
- Industries can afford to pay a higher price for biomass procurement as this biomass is used as a replacement for Furnace Oil / LDO / Diesel.
- This has driven biomass prices from approx. Rs. 800 / ton 3-4 years back to as high as Rs. 5500 / ton today.
- Biomass power plants cannot afford to buy biomass at these rates as their Power Purchase Rates with the State Electricity Boards are capped.
- Some biomass power producers, struggling to pay off the bank loans, have resorted to use of cheaper coal as fuel, defeating the whole purpose.
- This has led to a situation where biomass power plant licenses are up for sale for which there are no takers.
- Certain states have stopped issuing new biomass power plant licenses.
- Biomass power producers are lobbying hard for further increase in the PPA rates for biomass power plants to reflect ground realities.
CERC has announced on May 14, 2014, new guidelines for biomass power plants which come as a welcome relief to the sector. You can read about it here (http://natgrp.org/2014/05/26/cerc-may-15th-2014-order-issued-revising-biomass-tariff-upwards-as-well-as-changing-solar-pv-thermal-hydro-and-other-tariff-substantially-by-revising-capital-values-for-the-financial-year-2014-15/)
What is the solution?
Captive Biomass Energy Plantations i.e. growing your own biomass (such as fast growing trees / grasses etc.) for cost-effective feedstock security.
Biomass Species characteristics:
- Extremely high yield of 40-50 tons per acre p.a.
- Non-invasive species
- Suited to tropical zones
- Drought tolerant
- Suitable for even marginal lands
- Fast growing
- Amenable for high density planting
- Easy to propagate
- Responsive to bio-fertilizers
- Can be harvested either after 6 months, 2 years or 4 years depending on species
- Amenable for coppicing
- Free from serious pests & diseases
- High calorific value
Benefits of Dedicated Energy Crop plantations:
- Reforestation project will provide immediate soil cover and biomass with a ready market.
- Supplementing the available feedstock requirements of the Bio-fuel, Power & Chemical plant with the produced biomass on a long term sustainable basis.
- Maximizing the use of local resources creates an indigenous source of feedstock, thus contributing to the local economy and avoiding the need to import supplemental biomass and exposure to foreign exchange risk.
- GHG reductions will result from offsetting power that would otherwise be produced from the use of fossil fuels(Diesel, HFO) & most perennial grass develop a major source of carbon sequestration through the development of intensive root system. Each root system consumes approximately 2-3 MT of Co2 / year.
- The establishment of energy plantations will create employment and provide an income stream for farmers by providing a sustainable, long term end use and thus contribute towards sustainable development in the area.
- Promote a level of biodiversity of flora and fauna over areas that were previously barren.
- Improve the general condition of watersheds, prevent soil erosion & maintain a healthy eco-system.
Main Criteria for selecting a particular Energy Crop will heavily depend on the local environment, land available and end-use. Below listed are criteria we follow to set-up a dedicated plantation
Ability to select right species of biomass plant for establishment of a plantation based on:
- Growth characteristics: height and weight of biomass/fruit produced as a function of time.
- Thermal characteristics (calorific value, Sugar content, Cellulose content, etc.)
- Chemical Analysis (Fixed Carbon, Sulphur, Ash content, etc.)
- Suitability of the plant species to the environmental factors, coppicing (regenerative) characteristics.
- Soil Type, Weather Pattern, Water Availability, Labor cost
- Ability to replicate such biomass plantations easily and economically across all geographic locations. Not all species are amenable for easy replication and hence this aspect assumes great importance in the predictability criteria.
- Ability to produce millions of plant saplings in a commercially viable method.
- Ability to mechanize planting and harvesting using commercial framing equipment.