For India, energy remains the key driver of growth, not only from an economic perspective but more importantly for accelerating social development. With India's substantial coal reserves, it is natural that coal is currently the largest part of its energy mix – almost 60 per cent of the country’s primary energy.
Yet India, with a GDP of $2.3 trillion, is home to over 239 million people who do not have access to electricity. This has implications on overall development goals including poverty alleviation, health, food security, and education. As coal minister Piyush Goyal put it, India's top development priority is to provide affordable electricity to all.
India also recognises the importance of meeting its climate commitments. Even though coal is expected to continue to dominate India's primary energy in the foreseeable future, the country is exploring all possible avenues of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG)emissions. The government is pursuing various measures to reduce emissions from power plants. For instance, increasing the efficiency of existing power plants, using cleaner coal technologies, and deploying renewables, particularly solar, are all complementary activities and not mutually exclusive.
In recent years, the Indian government has promoted plant efficiency in the country’s coal fleet, closing older subcritical stations and building or upgrading the fleet to supercritical or ultra-supercritical High efficiency low emissions (HELE) technologies.HELE technologies are a group of varied technologies developed to increase the efficiency of coal-fired power plants. These technologies reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions, as well as non-GHG emissions such as nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and particulate matter (PM).
The International Energy Agency (IEA) considers HELE technologies a critical first step in reducing emissions from coal. These plants are also important precursors on the road to carbon capture, utilization and storage. Ultimately CCUS technologies are critical to achieving global climate objectives, not just for power generation but for industry as well.
It is clear that it is quite some time before India is ready to take the leap into carbon storage. However, it is encouraging to see that in India there is growing interest in carbon capture and utilization technology at senior government and industry levels.
Using captured CO2 is one of the most cost-effective ways to begin the process of significantly reducing emissions from power plants and industry, most importantly because it can provide a revenue stream for the captured carbon.
It is also worth noting that India can already boast an existing CCUS project. Carbion Clean Solutions (CCSL),based in Chennai, is currently generating power at a small plant on a commercial basis, without subsidies, while capturing about 97 per cent of its carbon emissions.
CCUS delivery can be challenging. However, the challenges are primarily related to market issues, rather than the technology itself - key processes in the operation, such as CO2 separation, have been used for over six decades now.
In order to meet global climate targets, the Global CCS Institute (GCCSI) reckons we need over 2,000 CCS facilitiesaround the world by 2040. Today there are only 37 large-scale CCS projects -- 21 of which are either in operation or construction, five in advanced planning and 11 projects in earlier stages of planning.
Given the progress needed on CCUS technology, it is certainly encouraging to see early steps towards a carbon utilization industry in India. As with other aspects of climate action, the international community has a vital role to play in supporting emerging economies, such as India, to meet climate ambitions.
To date, international finance initiatives, such as the Clean Technology Fund, have branded CCUS as a pre-commercial technology – thereby denying the needed funding to boost deployment. Specific CCUS funding provisions are required in order to stimulate projects in economies such as India.
In the last decade, clean energy technologies have received more than $2 trillion in investment and yet only 1 per cent ($20 billion) of this investment has gone to CCUS.If CCUS had been given similar support, the story would be different today– deployment levels would be significantly higher.
Deployment of the technology globally has struggled due to a lack of policy parity in comparison to other low emissions technologies. This experience should guide the Indian government. The government's support will be critical in the early stages, to deliver the first batch of CCUS projects, particularly in the development of key infrastructure.
India has the potential to lead future CCUS development and deployment in Southeast Asia.
The focus in the coming years should be on the enabling steps that will be required to deploy CCUS at scale, particularly in the developing markets for captured carbon and beginning to think about longer term possibilities for storage. India should consider developing a long-term strategic vision for carbon capture with clear milestones to enhance deployment. A clear strategy can provide the much-needed platform to pool resources to make deployment a reality.