April 2015 | Gayatri Kamath

The going is green

A presence across hydro, wind, solar and geothermal makes it easier for Tata Power to target a cleaner energy portfolio

The going is green In the hills around Dagachhu in Bhutan, Tata Power’s newest power unit, a 126MW hydroelectric project, has gone live with the commissioning of the first of its two 63MW units. Dagachhu is the company’s first international project to go on stream, and the first new hydro unit after Bhira in 1927. Tata Power also has hydro projects coming up in Georgia and Zambia. Projects such as these enable Tata Power to stand out among power producers because it is that rare company with a presence across the renewables of hydro, wind, solar and geothermal energy.

Experts believe that 2015 is one of the most crucial years for the planet. Across the globe, countries are getting ready to propose their national carbon emission reduction targets. By December 2015, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will determine whether the proposed cuts are sufficient to maintain global warming at the 2oC above pre-industrial levels. With carbon taxes looming, going green to balance fossil fuel power is a must-do for the power industry. And this is what Tata Power has envisioned, setting itself a target of 20-25 percent generation from clean energy sources.

Of all the clean sources, hydro and wind are the key focus areas for this 100-year-old company. On the occasion of its centenary celebrations on February 11, 2015, managing director Anil Sardana announced that Tata Power would double its hydro output by adding 450MW in the coming years. “Hydro is a key component of our clean energy vision,” he says.

Mahesh Paranjpe, chief of hydro and renewable operations, explains the need: “For a stable electrical grid, the ratio of thermal to hydro has to be 70:30. This has come down to 75:25. India’s north and northeast has good potential, but terrain, power evacuation facilities and land acquisition can be obstacles.”

Stumbles in the solar system
Tata Power’s solar portfolio is still small. With a 25MW unit recently commissioned in Palaswadi, Maharashtra, the total solar energy wattage touched 57MW in 2014. Solar energy is more predictable than wind, but the need for large land parcels is a stumbling block.

Chief operating officer Ashok Sethi explains why wind projects are easier to set up: “One pole can generate up to 2.5MW of power, whereas a solar energy farm will take up 8 acres to generate the same amount of power.” To get around the land issue, Tata Power experimented with a floating solar plant to utilise the large surface area of its lakes in Lonavla, but scaling up the operation proved difficult.

Another issue is the cost of solar panels which is still high, and together with land costs drives up the price of power. “The cost of solar power — at Rs7 per unit — is higher than wind energy, which is about Rs5,” says Mr Sethi. Even a Rs2 difference can make power too expensive for an industrial consumer. But as solar tech advances, prices will fall. Solar is definitely the future, but energy is always linked to the right timing and the right pricing.”

Hydro is happening but wind also accounts for a big chunk of the company’s clean energy output. Tata Power is already India’s third-largest wind energy producer, with about 470MW generated from its wind turbines. To this, says Mr Sethi, the company will be adding 200MW every year. The latest of the company’s wind energy projects to go live was the 32MW Girijashankarwadi undertaking in Maharashtra.

Wind energy has good potential in India with Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat being the leaders and Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh also showing promise. What makes wind more attractive to producers are the figures. Rahul Shah, the chief executive of Tata Power Renewable Energy, says that wind offers a steadier and more profitable supply of power than solar. “The plant load factor for wind is in the range of 22-35 percent as compared with solar, which is 17-21 percent,” he explains. “Also, the footprint of a wind installation is smaller.”

In India the challenges of putting up wind and solar farms in India are somewhat similar. Power generation fluctuates as wind speeds or cloud cover changes with the season. Road connectivity is poor in the remote areas that are typically better prospects for such projects. Maintenance and logistics become challenges. And there is a dearth of 33kV lines to evacuate the power or connect to the grid.

Despite the government’s avowed support for renewables, policies and permits are also an issue, says Mr Shah. “There are delays in getting clearances and approvals. Currently there is no single-window clearance system in place. There is uncertainty in policies and control periods for the feed in tariff .”

Another experimental area is geothermal energy. Unlike wind and solar, geothermal resources offer 24x7 energy. Tata Power is part of a consortium that won the tender for the 240MW Sorik Marapi Geothermal Power Project in Indonesia, which is at the exploratory drilling stage. The company’s partner in this joint venture is Origin Energy from Australia, which has a presence in geothermal projects in New Zealand and Chile.

The geothermal play
Indonesia is promoting geothermal in a big way. “It holds the world’s largest resource of geothermal energy, with a potential in excess of 29,000MW,” says Minesh Dave, Tata Power’s chief representative in Indonesia.

As a resource, geothermal holds great promise. “Plant efficiency can touch up to 95 percent and the tariff offered is attractive. However, there are a number of challenges and risks, such as the remoteness of the site, acceptance by the community, land acquisition, transmission connectivity, the multiplicity of approvals required and, above all, the uncertainty of the resource, which can impact profitability. It will take two-three years and up to $100 million to prove the quality of the resource.”

Closer to home, Tata Power is exploring biomass gasification. It is setting up a small 250kW plant that will use biomass and waste such as rice husk to produce electricity. If this is successful the pilot can be rolled out as a rural electrification project in villages that are not connected to the grid. Apart from these green sources, Tata Power has also set up power plants at Haldia and Jamshedpur that utilise waste gases from blast furnaces and coke ovens to generate power, while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Tata Power’s seriously big numbers relate to its coal and gas plants. But it is the company’s focus on green and clean energies that makes it a sustainable power producer. Having one foot in the future will certainly be of help here.

Know more about Tata Power's fascinating journey:
Overview: 100 years of high-wattage performance
A century ago, Tata Power ran a single hydroelectric project in India. Today it has grown to a $5.6-billion global enterprise, with coal mines in Indonesia, wind farms in South Africa, energy projects in Turkey and Zambia and technology partnerships in Australia. It is India's largest integrated private power producer, spanning power generation, transmission, distribution and trading
'We will continue to bring new technologies to India'
The path that Tata Power has chosen for itself is global and clean, as the company’s chief executive, Anil  Sardana, explains in this interview
'The consumer will reign'
Tata Power’s chief operating officer, Ashok Sethi, who has clocked 39 years with the company, shares his views on the organisation’s evolution
'We have to slog our assets'
There are challenges as well as opportunities on the path that Tata Power has chosen to take, says chief financial officer Ramesh Subramanyam
'A climate of respect is vital'
Chief culture officer and head of business excellence and transformation, Vivek Talwar, on what makes Tata Power a sustainable organisation
'People policies are linked to the company's strategy'
Employee engagement is critical to improve staff morale and the sense of belonging in the company, says human resources head Chetan Tolia
Chain of excellence
From renewable power to consumer friendliness, Tata Power’s associate entities have set the standard for the industry
For country and community, in the spirit of giving back
The corporate social responsibility initiatives of Tata Power have made a tremendous difference, in a wide variety of ways, to the lives of the countless people they have touched
'We were getting marginalised'
Tata Power had to think beyond Mumbai to stay relevant in a rapidly changing industry, and that’s what it did, writes Prasad Menon
From dependable to adaptable
Tata Power has grown spectacularly in scale and spread thanks to its ability to reinvent itself, says Adi Engineer
When 'farmers' became 'hunters'
Where once reliability and continuity were prized, Tata Power has moved on to find its balance and to flourish in a business arena rendered volatile, writes Firdose Vandrevala
'It was easier to run back then'
KM Gherda remembers the days of Tata Electric Companies, of ‘reasonable returns’ and a business where the big complexity was accounting for three rather than one
A pioneer all the way through
FC Kohli on the company where he made his mark as an information technology whiz, at a time when government permission was needed to get computers installed