Ramping Up

West Bengal looks to expand its renewable portfolio

West Bengal has witnessed continuous improvement in energy availability during the past few years leading to its becoming a power-surplus state. In 2007-08, the state had an energy deficit of around 4 per cent. By 2015-16, both energy deficit and peak deficit had reduced to 0.3 per cent. In fact, the additional peak and energy available at the state-owned discom, West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (WBSEDCL), is at times traded with other state utilities and exported to Bangladesh.

As of March 2016, the installed capacity in West Bengal had reached around 10,000 MW. The state relies largely on coal-based power plants to meet its power requirements, with coal accounting for 84.5 per cent of the total installed capacity. The state’s coal-based capacity has nearly doubled from 4,296 MW in March 2007 to almost 8,424 MW in March 2016. Hydropower stations in the state account for around 14.1 per cent of the installed base. Meanwhile, the total grid-connected renewable energy capacity is a meagre 136 MW (as of October 2016). While thermal and hydro-based generation dominate the state’s installed capacity, the share of renewable energy has stood at less than 2 per cent in the past three to four years.

West Bengal has limited scope for renewable energy growth. The state has an estimated renewable energy potential of 19,071 MW and ranks among the states with low renewable energy potential. Of this, nearly 16,200 MW is solar based and the remaining 2,271 MW is from other renewable energy sources, including wind, small-hydro power (SHP), biomass and cogeneration.

Existing capacity

The state has an installed renewable energy capacity of 136 MW, which mainly comprises small and mini hydropower stations with an aggregate capacity of over 98 MW. Of the total installed SHP capacity, nearly 90 MW has been installed by WBSEDCL through nine SHP plants, which generated a total of 525.76 MUs in 2015-16. The largest of these is the Teesta Canal Fall plant with an installed capacity of 67.5 MW.

Apart from SHP projects, the state also has a cumulative capacity of 26 MW of grid-connected biomass power and bagasse-based cogeneration projects. The West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency (WBREDA), which is the nodal agency for the implementation of non-conventional programmes, has promoted a number of biomass projects in the state. As a part of its biomass gasifier project for rural electrification, 1,400 kW of biomass generation capacity has been installed in three villages – 500 kW each in Gosaba and Chhotomollakhali and 400 kW in Heremba Gopalpur. In addition, 199 rice husk-based gasifier plants, with a total capacity of 64 MW, have been installed to meet the captive demand of rice mills in the state.

The grid-connected solar power capacity in the state currently stands at around 11.77 MW, with 4 MW having been added during 2016-17. The country’s first megawatt-scale solar PV project is located in Asansol, West Bengal. The solar segment is now beginning to witness an increased uptake in installations as state utilities such as WBSEDCL are drafting ambitious expansion plans to fulfil their renewable purchase obligations (RPOs). Integrated private player CESC Limited also has 789 kW of installed renewable energy capacity in the state across various rooftop projects. The largest of these is the 250 kW Auckland Jute Mill rooftop solar project.

The state has an estimated wind power potential of 450 MW. WBREDA has a total installed wind power capacity of 2,000 kW apart from 710 kW of wind-diesel hybrid plants and 36 kW of solar-wind hybrid plants.


Key challenges

Given the limited renewable energy potential in West Bengal and its slow development, state utilities and distribution companies such as WBSEDCL are struggling to meet their RPOs. As per the National Tariff Policy, at least 8 per cent of power consumption in the state must be from solar energy. This would require WBSEDCL to modify its renewable energy development plan, considering that it currently procures less than 5 per cent of power from solar energy. For private players like CESC, their limited licence area inhibits the development of adequate renewable energy capacity.

Future plans

The renewable energy policy notified by the state in 2012 aims to achieve 2,706 MW of generation capacity from renewable energy sources including cogeneration by 2022. However, under the 175 GW renewable energy target set by the central government for 2022, West Bengal’s share is 5,336 MW of solar and 50 MW of SHP. Therefore, the state government/state nodal agency would have to revise the targets provided in the state policy.

WBSEDCL plans to set up nearly 1,500 MW of solar projects over the next few years. It also plans to set up canal-top solar projects. The utility has already commissioned 10 MW of canal bank solar capacity in Uttar Dinajpur. Moreover, WBSEDCL intends to set up a 1,200 MW grid-connected solar PV power plant, which will be linked to the upcoming 1,000 MW Turga Purulia pumped storage plant (PPSP).

Meeting the state’s renewable energy targets would require a quantum leap from the current installed capacity. With land acquisition being a key constraint for renewable energy development, the government will have to resolve this issue at the earliest in order to encourage potential investors and accelerate renewable energy development in the state.


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