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India’s Power Struggles

India is trying hard to catch up with the more developed, electrified world. Although it is an extraordinarily poor country, India’s democratic government expects to be taken seriously as a key player in the international energy community.

In physical terms, India is certainly one of the big guys. India’s vast landmass makes it the seventh-largest country in the world. India’s natural resources include the fourth-largest coal reserves in the world. India is both the third-largest producer and third-largest consumer of coal in the world. And with 1.2 billion people, India is the world’s second-most populous country.

India is also a country of enormous economic contrasts. India’s rapidly expanding national economy is among the top five in the world, with more business-friendly policies in place and state monopolies giving way to free-market enterprises. Yet new high-rise office buildings and town centers with cutting-edge industries are only part of the story.

Blackouts are common, and many live off the grid
Although India’s overall electricity production and consumption make its electric power sector the world’s sixth largest, it’s not nearly enough for that country’s well-being. A recent study by the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) concluded that “India currently suffers from a major shortage of electric generating capacity.”

How bad is it? Brownouts and blackouts occur in major cities on a daily basis, disrupting service to factories, hospitals, offices, schools, and homes. Poor people living in urban slums often have no connections to the local power grid. Many rural areas have no central power grids at all.

According to an Indian government Web site, “Most of those who have access (to electricity) do not get (an) uninterrupted reliable supply. Only 55 percent (of) households in India have access to electricity.” Experts at the United States EIA figure that about 400 million people in India—one-third of the population—do not have access to electricity.

The Indian government says, “Power is today a basic human need. It is the critical infrastructure on which modern economic activity is fully dependent.” So India’s leaders are taking a bold approach to fix this mismatch between the supply and demand for electricity and improve the lives of so many struggling citizens.

In a recent speech to the Confederation of Indian Industry, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh noted that India, like many other countries in the world, is indeed “moving along a low-carbon growth path,” but in a way of its own choosing. Part one of India’s new three-part strategy is to make energy investment decisions that make good business sense for its people. Part two focuses on taking better care of the natural environment.

India’s energy strategy: become a “problem solver”
Part three of India’s new strategy involves encouraging new ideas and new technology to improve its global energy reputation. Ramesh and other government officials are trying “to re-position India diplomatically as a constructive problem solver.”

To do that, India’s Ministry of Energy has established a rural electrification division. It’s devoted to finding practical ways to produce and deliver electricity to isolated communities to help improve agricultural production, industrial development, and the daily lives of villagers.

India is also taking a wide-ranging approach to build up an ample, reliable supply of electricity everywhere using a wide mix of resources. Some efforts are homegrown, such as Suzlon, a wind energy company based in Pune, India. Since it began in 1995, Suzlon has grown into a global renewable energy leader, doing business in more than 25 countries around the world.

Coal and natural gas traditionally account for about 70 percent of India’s electricity production, and will continue to be used as the basis of that country’s electricity network. However, the focus is now on innovative designs for its new fossil-fuel-based power plants.

The Ministry of Energy is giving top priority to several major new construction projects known as Ultra Mega Power Projects (UMPP), intended to quickly increase the amount of electricity going into the national grid. Each coal-based UMPP plant will be capable of producing about 4,000 megawatts of electricity.

Tata Power, India’s largest private power company, will begin generating electricity at its Coastal Gujarat Power Limited development in 2012. This innovative UMPP plant uses supercritical technology (pulverized coal combustion at extremely high pressure) to improve efficiency while decreasing emissions.

For a new combined cycle natural gas generating plant in the southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh, India’s Reliance Power Limited chose U.S.-based engineering company Black & Veatch for design expertise. The plant will use waste heat from the gas combustion to make additional steam to improve efficiency.

When fully operational in 2012, the 2,500-megawatt plant will provide power to 2 million homes and boost economic development in the region.

To read the supplement on floating solar panels that goes along with this article, go to sunfloat.

To watch a video that shows the floating solar panels in action, go to sunfloat video.

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