Power sector's crucial role in climate change

Last month, Hawaii’s Mount Loa observatory recorded a grave milestone – an average CO2 reading of 400 ppm for the entire day.

This level of concentration has not been recorded for millions of years on earth.  Every country must take appropriate action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG, CO2, H2O, methane, ozone, nitrous oxide) emissions, though the scope and extent of this vary, and India is no exception. As a part of its voluntary commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 2020, India adopted the National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC) in 2008. The states, in turn, created and adopted their own State Action Plans for Climate Change (SAPCCs) to develop along a low carbon pathway.

The focus of this article is on climate change mitigation in the process of power generation in Karnataka. Electricity accounts for over 35 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions and is the largest emitter of GHGs in the state. The situation is alarming given that electricity consumption in the state is expected to double in the coming decade. To meet such a demand, about 12,000 mw of capacity addition would be required by 2022.

As of March 31, 2013, the installed capacity available to meet the state’s electricity demand was 12,375 mw. The corresponding power generation was approximately 57,248 Million Units (MU). Thermal sources (coal and diesel) accounted for about 40 per cent of the total installed capacity and nearly 70 per cent of the total generation. The challenge therefore is to plan for ‘green growth’ of the power sector while avoiding a substantial increase in what the consumer has to pay.

Critical technology

In the short term, the government has to find ways for increased utilisation of existing coal plants, which has reduced significantly due to shortage of domestic coal, increased price of imported coal and higher maintenance time. Also, the use of washed coal (i.e. coal with lower ash content) would improve the economics of the plant, and also reduce maintenance cost and time. Some new coal based plants are designed with super critical technology that emits a clear 15 to 18 per cent less CO2 while also consuming less coal per unit of generation.  The catch here is that such technology requires good quality of coal.

Demand side measures must be instituted to increase the penetration of energy efficient (EE) appliances in all sectors so as to reduce electricity demand. Consumers should be persuaded to use EE appliances rather than energy intensive appliances. In the medium term, there still appears to be some scope to improve transmission and distribution (T&D) efficiency of the electricity grid. Though Karnataka has shown much improvement in this area in the past decade – T&D losses have decreased substantially in the last decade, though at 20 per cent, its T&D losses are still the highest among the southern states. Separation of agricultural and rural load, completion of metering of electricity consumption, and upgradation of the T&D infrastructure, adoption of energy efficient distribution transformers, will ensure saving of electricity.

We need to promote deployment of renewable energy through appropriate incentives such as feed-in tariffs and aggressive renewable purchase obligation (RPO) targets. Enforcement of RPOs through stringent penalties for noncompliance is also necessary. Developers and system integrators can also play a role in this by creating innovative business models for decentralised renewable energy. Policies to promote solar PV-based rooftop systems may also provide a solution to managing electricity demand. Also, the drop in solar panel prices caused by flooding of Chinese panels in the market has reduced the cost of solar power generation, and will work as an incentive.

In the medium to long term, as the share of renewable energy increases, steps would also have to be taken to manage intermittency. Solar and wind energy are less predictable than conventional energy, and can compromise the stability of the grid if they are not managed properly. This would require ensuring sufficient capacity of peaking power (i.e. power which can be ramped up or down very quickly), such as pumped hydro and gas and investigating the feasibility of grid-level battery storage. In addition, the load can also be managed through demand-side intervention, such as time-of-use pricing. “Smart grids”, i.e. grids which use two-way digital technology to deliver electricity in a more efficient, cost-effective, and resilient manner, would complement the deployment of such initiatives to innovatively manage the load.


The quantum of energy deficit and peak shortage in the state has steadily increased over the 11th Five Year Plan during which the state was unable to meet its target for capacity addition. The measures suggested here would help the state utilities reduce this gap and position the power sector to meet the projected demand of 108,704 MU (twice the current supply) for the year 2022, while also keeping the emissions from the sector in check.

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