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Foundation for the future

Renewable energy technologies are the driving force behind a recently launched programme to bring clean, affordable energy services to people living in rural India, who today are without reliable sources of power.

In a ceremony held earlier this year in New Delhi, GE Energy officially unveiled its Rural Electrification Program for India. GE and its worldwide network of experts, technology centers and partners will invest up to $2.7 million in direct and indirect funding to support this effort. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) also will provide support for the rural electrification initiative.

GE also has pledged to support the “Power to All by 2012” and “Rural Electrification/Rural Business Hub” initiatives that have been launched by the Indian government. Currently, 56 per cent of India’s 700 million rural residents lack adequate and/or reliable power supplies.

Designed around renewable and waste stream technologies that can help to reduce or eliminate a community’s dependence on transported fuels, GE Energy’s Rural Electrification Program for India will feature a number of technologies from the company’s ecomagination portfolio, which includes technologies that generate electricity through the use of renewable, biogas or waste gas technologies as well as high-efficiency, low-emission gas turbines and engines.

A variety of power generation technologies will be deployed to support the Indian rural electrification effort. While GE’s primary focus in India in the past has been on gas turbines and gas engines, the company also believes there is tremendous potential for furthering energy independence of communities through the use of solar and wind power.

For the Rural Electrification Program, the GE Global Research Center in Bangalore is developing an integrated hybrid technology model, which combines various forms of renewable energy and provides customized power solutions based on availability of local fuel resources.

The choice of the energy sources depends on a lot of factors such as the available renewable resource, load requirements, distances etc, based on which, the optimal combination of the energy resources will be determined. One of the important aspects is the capability to operate such a hybrid system in a grid-isolated as well as a grid-connected mode allowing seamless transition. This would ensure continuity of power in the absence of the grid power. The technology being developed will study and resolve the major challenges due to the intermittent nature of the renewable source, and the high peak to average ratio of the loads and ability to handle transients. In order to ensure a reliable power supply, the system needs to be robust to withstand these variations, and still be designed to provide the lowest cost of energy. These conflicting requirements need to be addressed by the control technologies for optimal operation of the Hybrid Power System.

A key role for biogas

GE Energy will supply biogas engines for pilot projects in India. Through the Rural Electrification Program, the company has signed a contract with Malavalli Power Plant Private Limited (MPPL) to provide 30 Jenbacher JMS320 engines, which will be used to generate heat and power to meet electrical, refrigeration and heating needs within rural communities. The sites where these engines will be installed are expected to be in Punjab.

“The Rural Business Hub (RBH) initiative aims to stimulate economic activity by optimizing the use of local talent and resources under the guidance of the Confederation of Indian Industry. MPPL will invest $30 million in developing these rural electrification/RBH projects under the ‘Public-Private-Panchayat’ initiative,” notes K. Krishan, chairman of MPPL and Core Group Power (under the RBH initiative).

“These projects can be a catalyst in helping us meet almost 50 per cent of our rural electrification needs by using renewable energy. We are excited to have GE associated with this effort, through its world-class technology and innovative solutions,” he adds.

It is estimated that the potential for wind energy in India is close to 65 000 MW
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GE’s Jenbacher engines are specially designed to operate on a variety of alternative or specialty fuels including biogas, crop residue, municipal solid waste, landfill, coalmine methane and industrial waste gases. The units feature advanced emissions and engine control technology that enable the clean combustion of biomass for onsite power.

The biogas fueled engines recently received GE ecomagination certification, after completing the company’s environmental and operational evaluation process. The review process includes an independent, third party audit to ensure accuracy and thorough documentation of technological performance.

Currently, more than 450 Jenbacher gas engines are operating on biogas worldwide. These systems generate 2.28 million MWh of power per year, which corresponds to fossil fuel savings equivalent to 518 million m3 of natural gas annually. For example, one Jenbacher JMS biogas engine with a capacity of 1.4 MW generates 11 200 MWh per year, enough electricity to power about 6000 rural Indian households.

The Jenbacher engine systems are specially modified to provide the right combination of durability, advanced combustion and monitoring capabilities to manage the changing fuel quality and supply. This combination makes biogas and coal mine methane projects both environmentally and economically attractive.

Methane, a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the greenhouse warming potential of carbon dioxide, is released during the anaerobic fermentation of organic materials or hard coal mining. By using biogas or coal mine methane in Jenbacher gas engines to generate power, less greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere.

The power of the wind

Harnessing the power of the wind also will be a key strategy in GE Energy’s Rural Electrification Program for India.

India already is embracing wind power as an alternative to fossil fuel generation. In 2005, India became the world’s fourth largest producer of wind energy, overtaking Denmark and now trailing only Germany, Spain and the United States.

According to the Global Wind Energy Council, India added 1430 MW of installed wind capacity in 2005, an increase of 47.6 per cent over the previous year, bringing its total to 4430 MW. Still, the country’s huge wind power potential has barely been tapped; the Indian Wind Turbine Manufacturers Association estimates that potential to be close to 65 000 MW.

According to the association’s president, Sarvesh Kumar: “Wind power is today recognized in the Asian hemisphere and more particularly in India as being a cost-effective, economic, mature and well-proven form of clean, environmentally friendly and green energy production – a source of energy much needed in India.”

GE will provide 30 Jenbacher gas engines to generate heat and power for rural communities
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The government of India strongly supports the continuing development of wind power. For example, the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources has issued guidelines to all state governments in India to help make investments in wind farms attractive. Depreciation benefits of 80 per cent in the first year of a wind farm’s operation and a ten-year tax “holiday” are leading to substantial income tax benefits for wind farm developers.

India’s Electricity Act of 2003 mandates that a fixed percentage of any distribution utility’s electricity sales must come from renewables. This Renewable Purchase Obligation now is being formalized by state electricity regulatory commissions.

Thanks to its supportive regulatory environment and vast wind power potential, India is attracting strong interest from the world’s leading wind energy project developers and technology suppliers. GE Energy entered the Indian wind industry in 2004, supplying 18 wind turbines for the Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd. wind power project in Karnataka State, south India. The following year, GE won a contract to supply wind turbines for a 12 MW wind farm in the village of Radhapuram, Tamil Nadu.

Many of the wind turbines installed in India in the past have been in the 500 kW-1 MW range, but future demand is expected to be for machines larger than 1 MW, as evidenced by the two recent GE projects. Both feature GE’s 1.5 MW wind turbines, which are among the most widely used megawatt-class wind turbines in the world. To date, more than 4500 of these machines have been installed worldwide.

Building on this experience, GE continues to seek improvements for its wind turbine technology, ranging from increases in reliability and dependability to more effective and versatile configurations. The company currently is pursuing a number of wind-related research projects at its Global Research Centers located in Germany, China and the United States, as well as the facility at Bangalore in India.

In India, as well as other areas of the world, solving grid integration and reliability issues is a key to the continuing development of wind power as a significant energy option. GE has developed a suite of grid-friendly controls and electronics to address this challenge, including:

  • WindRIDE-THRU, which allows wind turbines to remain in operation during a 100 per cent voltage drop.
  • WindFREE Reactive Power, which delivers controlled reactive power even in zero wind conditions (reactive power is energy that must be produced for the maintenance of the system).

Harnessing the sun

The continuing advancement of photovoltaic (solar energy) technology also is expected to play a significant role in the Indian rural electrification initiative. Stand-alone solar power systems can easily be installed in remote, off-the-grid locations to provide electricity.

GE is developing rural and remote solar technologies with capabilities beyond conventional residential and community use. One instance of this expanded use of reliable solar power is the development of a solar-powered, freshwater reverse osomosis purification system for drinking water.

Fourteen of these units are presently being tested in rural areas of India that were affected by the Tsunami in 2004. While the end product of this product is not electricity – clean, potable water is another key criteria of GE’s Rural Electrification Program.

Foundation for the future

In addition to increasing the supply of electricity for rural communities, the GE Energy programme can produce even broader benefits for the people of India.

By providing access to more reliable power, the programme can serve as the foundation for other improvements, such as expanded health care services, enhanced agricultural productivity, increased access to clean water, skill development and economic empowerment for the people or rural India.

According to Anil Gupta, regional marketing leader, Africa, India and the Middle East for GE Energy, the programme “demonstrates a paradigm shift from electrical connectivity to economic connectivity. Using easily available, abundant renewable energy resources to create reliable power, this program can reach off-grid or tail-end grid villages, towns and clusters, while also helping rural communities create new opportunities for employment and generate new sources of income.”

He adds, “Our plan is to globalize this programme for use in developing countries. The programme directly supports the goals of the Presidential Clean Energy Initiative, GE’s focus on corporate citizenship through its renewable technology portfolio, and the United Nations’ Millennium Development goals to alleviate global poverty.”