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Environmental Impact of Emissions from Thermal Power

Generation in India

Introduction

India is the world’s fourth largest economy and has a fast growing energy market. India’s current
power capacity is 30% short of demand. Coal and petroleum are the primary sources of energy. High
ash content in Indian coal and inefficient combustion technologies contribute to India’s emission of air
particulate matter and other trace gases, including gases that are responsible for the greenhouse
effect. The USAID Office of Environment, Energy & Enterprise in India promotes clean energy
development through efficient energy use and pollution reduction. This organization has sponsored
the project, Anthropogenic Emissions from Energy Activities in India, to assess the emissions of
greenhouse and other trace atmospheric gases from energy activities in India.

In this project, we will study India’s present and projected inventory of emissions, study the transport
and patterns of emitted pollutants, and develop a long-term air quality database covering the country’s
various geographical areas. Part I is an estimation of greenhouse and other trace gases from India’s
coal-based thermal power plants. The emission estimates are made for each power plant based on
power generation per day and the coal used per unit generation of power. Part II deals with the
emissions from the vehicular transport using petroleum fuels. This study is currently in progress.

India’s population, second in the world, grows at a rate of about 2% every year and has grown from
300 million in 1947 to more than a billion today. Rising population and changes in lifestyles consistent
with rapid economic growth have accelerated the energy demand. Energy consumption in India has
grown 7,000% from 1950 to 1998. The present annual growth rate of energy consumption in India is
4%. Per capita energy consumption in India in 1997 was 19 million BTU (British Thermal Units),
compared to 323 million BTU in the United States and a world average of 65 million BTU. By the year
2010, per capita energy usage in India is expected to increase to almost 40 million BTU, a two-fold
increase in 13 years.

Fossil fuels are the main source of energy and also, unfortunately, of pollutants, greenhouse gases,
and other trace atmospheric varieties. Coal is the primary fuel in thermal power plants; gasoline and
diesel are the primary fuels for automobiles. There is also limited use of natural gas in these energy
activities.

According to the National Thermal Power Corporation, coal is used for approximately 62.3% of India’s
electric power generation; oil and gas account for 10.2%; water’s share is 24.1%; nuclear, wind, and
other power generation methods contribute to the remaining 3.4% usage. In 1997-98, total electricity
generation exceeded 46,000 GWH (Gig watt Hours) by all of the prime sources (Steam, Gas, Diesel,
Wind, Nuclear, and Hydro). This includes electricity generation by utilities and captive plants
(electricity generation by other industries for their own use). Public utilities primarily use steam in the
generation of power.

India is the third-largest producer of coal, but Indian coal is of poor quality with high ash content (35-
50%) and low calorific value (gross heat of combustion). A major portion of the ash is inherent in the
coal, aggravating the difficulty in removing it.

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Environmental Impact of Emissions from Thermal Power Generation in India

To crystallize the picture, comparisons of coal samples used at Chandrapur Thermal Power Plant
(India) with that of Ohio (USA) coal are given in Table 1. The calorific value of Ohio coal is almost
twice that of Chandrapur coal. To generate the same amount of steam (for electricity), the amount of
Indian coal required is almost twice as that of Ohio coal.

Table 1: Comparison (Ultimate analysis) of Chandrapur and Ohio coal

Thermal Power Plants in India

According to the Central Electricity Authority of India, as of March 31, 1998, 83 steam plants were in
operation in India. These plants generated almost 80% of total generated power for the nation.

Coal consumption by various plants in the country during the year 1997-98 was almost 203 million
metric tons. The consumption of fuels such as furnace oil decreased by more than 32.5%, while the
consumption of lignite coal, a low-sulfur heavy stock (LSHS), a high sulfur heavy stock (HHS), and
diesel oil increased by 7.54%, 31.91% and 33.9%, respectively. Decreased use of furnace oil has
decreased the emissions to some extent.

Emissions from Thermal Power Plants

The main emissions from coal combustion at thermal power plants are carbon dioxide (CO), nitrogen
oxides (NO), sulfur oxides (SO), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and air- borne inorganic particles such
as fly ash, soot, and other trace gas species. Carbon dioxide, methane, and chlorofluorocarbons are
greenhouse gases. These emissions are considered to be responsible for heating up the atmosphere,
producing a harmful global environment. Oxides of nitrogen and sulfur play an important role in
atmospheric chemistry and are largely responsible for atmospheric acidity. Particulates and black
carbon (soot) are of concern, in addition to possible lung tissue irritation resulting from inhalation of
soot particles and various organic chemicals that are known carcinogens.

CO2, SO2, NO, and soot emissions from each of the power plants have been computed. Emissions
from combustion of the supplementary fuels such as high-speed diesel (HSD) and furnace oil used in
small quantities (<1%) are not counted in the present calculations.

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Environmental Impact of Emissions from Thermal Power Generation in India

Carbon dioxide emissions

Utilities burn mostly coal with approximately 10 –30% excess air. The total carbon obtained from
analysis is converted to CO after the reaction (combustion) is complete. Total CO emissions for 1997
from all the power plants in India are estimated at 1.1 Teragrams (Tg) per day or 397 Tg per year.
Average CO emission per unit of electricity is 1.04 Gig grams (Gg). Technological improvements in
efficient combustion of coal can lead to greater production of electricity per unit of coal that will
effectively reduce CO emission per unit of electricity. Although the current per capita carbon dioxide
(CO) emission in India is only one quarter of the world average and about twenty times less than
United State’s averages, the growth rate of emissions is very high. Because of this growth, the region
is expected to soon become a major contributor of greenhouse gases, such as CO and other air
pollutants.

Sulfur dioxide emissions

The sulfur content in Indian coal is low compared to United States coal. Acid rain due to sulfur dioxide
emissions is presently not of great concern. However, increasing coal use or blending Indian coal with
imported coal of higher calorific value (further increasing electricity production) needs to be carefully
addressed through viable technological options. Average SO emissions per unit of electricity are
0.0069 Gg. Total SO emissions are estimated to be 7.33 Gg per day or 2.7 Tg per year.

Emissions of oxides of nitrogen

Oxidation of nitric oxide (NO) discharged in combustion products forms nitrogen dioxide (NO) in the
atmosphere. These oxides of nitrogen are responsible for the formation of photochemical smog. Nitric
oxide emission per unit of electricity is estimated as approximately 0.00056 Gg. Total NO emissions
are estimated to be 0.5 Gg per day and 0.185 Tg per year. Nitrogen oxides are important chemical
species in the atmosphere since they contribute to its acidity; they also act as precursor gases for the
formation of tropospheric ozone. Tropospheric ozone is a greenhouse gas responsible for global
warming and is also known to have an adverse affect on plants. NO emissions should be kept at a
minimum possible level. Lower concentrations of NO lessen the formation of tropospheric ozone even
when other precursor gases like carbon monoxide (CO) are present in higher concentrations.

Carbonaceous material and black carbon (soot)

Incomplete and/or inefficient combustion processes of fossil fuel generate soot. A recently conducted
Indian Ocean Experiment (INDOEX) suggests that the presence of soot carbon in the atmosphere
over the northern Indian Ocean hinders its natural heating processes by about 15%. Enhancement of
boundary layer heating can significantly influence regional hydrological cycles and climate. Present
calculations show that soot emissions are produced at a rate of 22.0 Gg per year from Indian thermal
power plants. Soot emissions in India have not been studied thoroughly so far; these are the first
estimates of soot emission from Indian thermal power plants. Appropriate technological intervention to
prevent soot carbon emissions may possibly not only reduce the chances of soot escaping into the
atmosphere (where it can potentially change the radiation balance), but can also lead to further
increases in electricity production.

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Environmental Impact of Emissions from Thermal Power Generation in India

General Observations

1. Most power plants in India are running at an efficiency rate of 20-30%, which is lower than the
efficiency rates of 35-40% in the US. The reason for inefficient combustion should be probed
and corrective measures taken to modernize India’s plants. These actions will reduce national
emissions as well as increase electricity production.

2. Dispersion and transport of emitted greenhouse gases and other pollutants over the entire
Indian region need to be mapped to better understand the impact on the climate, as well as
on human, animal, plant, and ecological systems. 3. Further research is needed on population
exposure to these polluting gases. Pollutants’ effects and power plant density need to be
studied.

Analyses of detailed air characteristics and associated meteorological parameters, as well as


emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants from energy activities in India, will help climate
modeling and understanding the impact of these emissions on India’s climate, human and plant
health, and agriculture.

For Further Information

For any further information, please contact us at info@enzenglobal.com

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