India, the new China? Not quite. But the pace of new build in the Indian power generation sector is impressive by any standards. The present installed capacity is around 122 GWe – compared with 1362 MWe at the time of the country’s independence, in 1947. And current government plans envisage the addition of no less than another 100 GWe in the next ten years.

With a population of just over 1 billion, this is by no means an extravagant target, of course. China (population 1.3 billion) already has an installed capacity of around 400 GWe and is adding new power plants at a startling rate. Electricity consumption in India is currently around 600 kWh per head (much less than half that in China) and it is estimated that only about 55% of Indian households have access to electricity, with the figure falling to 44% in rural areas (compared with close to 100% in China).

Under the Indian government’s present “Power for all” plans it is hoped that everyone will have access to electricity by 2012 and per capita consumption will be at least 1000 kWh per year, while there will be enough spinning reserve and capacity margin to eliminate blackouts and power quality problems.

In terms of new build some major milestones have already been reached. For example first contracts have been placed for a new generation of 660 MWe supercritical coal fired units, intended to become a standard model for new Indian coal plants. The first stations will be Sipat Phase 1 (3×660 MWe) in Chattisgarh and Barh (also 3×660 MWe) in Bihar, both NTPC projects. Doosan is to supply the boilers at Sipat 1 and Power Machines of Russia the turbine islands for all six units, while the boiler supplier for Barh has yet to be announced.

Significant steps are being taken to upgrade the transmission and distribution system, with the national transmission development plan envisaging an investment programme of around $12.6 billion up to the year 2012. One element of this will be development of 765 kV lines, in addition to strengthening of the existing 400 kV and lower voltage systems. Towards this end, ABB has recently been awarded a contract to supply ten 500 MVA 765/400/33 kV auto-transformers and ten 80 MVA 765 kV shunt reactors to Power Grid Corporation of India, the largest bank of transformers ever installed in the country. The transformers and reactors will be installed at Seoni substation to transmit power from Sipat, and are in addition to a similar transformer order placed earlier by NTPC for Sipat.

Meanwhile there have also been some interesting developments in the gas fired generation sector, not least of which has been the announcement by Reliance that it intends to build what it believes to be the world’s largest combined cycle plant. This will be sited at Dadri, western Uttar Pradesh, with an eventual installed capacity of 3500 MWe. It will use natural gas from the Dhirubhai gas field (named after the late founder of Reliance, Dhirubhai Ambani), which was discovered in December 2002.

There are also ambitious plans to increase hydro generation, while wind power (albeit starting from a low base) has been enjoying rapid growth, with installed capacity in India now standing at well over 3000 MWe (compared with a mere 600 MWe or so in China). Indeed, India is now ranked fifth in Ernst and Young’s ranking of “attractiveness” to investors in renewables (after Spain, USA, UK and Germany, but several places above China). In its autumn 2005 report on what it calls the renewables “attractiveness indices” Ernst and Young says that India has moved up the rankings, “with high installation rates in onshore wind expected to be sustained.”

But even with all this activity in the area of new build, the Indians have not lost sight of the importance of also striving to extract as much value as possible from the existing power generation assets. R&M (renovation and modernisation) has for a long time been a key part of India’s efforts to bridge the gap between supply and demand, recognising that this often represents better value for money than adding new capacity, with much shorter lead times.

India’s largest power company, the predominantly government owned NTPC (National Thermal Power Corp), currently has about 8 GWe of new capacity under construction, and aspires to be a 56 GWe company by 2017 (compared with 24 GWe now and 200 MW in 1982). But it cannot be accused of taking its eye off the ball when it comes to R&M.

The average plant load factor for the NTPC fleet has gone from 75.2% in 1997/98 to 87.5% in 2004/05 and NTPC believes a major factor here is its policy of systematically carrying out R&M activities over and above normal periodic maintenance when a unit reaches 100 000 hours of operation.

However, when NTPC’s oldest, 200 MWe, plants reach 200 000 hours, which will happen in the period 2008-10, it is planning to subject them to a programme of what it calls “Mega R&M”, with the aim of introducing advanced technology and driving down the cost of generation. This could include such measures as upgrading of the 110/210 MW Skoda/LMZ turbines by fitting improved blading and even retrofitting advanced supercritical boilers into the existing buildings (as advocated by Mitsui Babcock in their “Green Coal” concept (see MPS, September 2005, 19-22)). Thus “R&M will emerge as a ‘key thrust area'” for the company, according to C Subramaniam of NTPC, speaking at the EPRI maintenance conference (Jersey City, NJ, USA, 8-10 August). So much so that a new business model has been developed for R&M which treats it rather like new build. According to this model “to bring the R&M activities in line with new build, the R&M program will be executed in ‘project mode’ from concept to complete implementation, with clearly identified unit shut-down dates in which the R&M is to be carried out.”

This kind of systematic approach to upgrading the ageing power plant fleet is to be welcomed and is essential if the India is to increase the reliability of its power supply and achieve the highly commendable goal of providing power for all as cost effectively as possible.