Waste to energy (WtE) has been a very slow growing segment despite there being tremendous potential for these projects in India. Currently, there are over 180 WtE plants based on municipal solid waste (MSW), urban, industrial and agricultural waste/residues for the generation of power and biogas to meet the thermal and electrical energy needs of industries and for the production of BioCNG for transportation, cooking fuel, etc.
A key bottleneck in the growth of this segment has been the lack of proper segregation, transportation and storage facilities for collected waste in most cities. There are gaps in the policy and regulatory framework, challenges in standard tariff determination, and issues in departmental coordination and in defining the roles of various government agencies. The technology for converting waste to energy is also not as mature as its counterparts, be it wind or solar, as the selection of technology depends on the type of waste to be treated. All these factors have made WtE a high-risk zone for financiers.
However, the segment has over the past one to two years started gaining traction due to a number of factors. Initiatives such as the Swachh Bharat Mission and the Smart Cities Mission are driving the growth of WtE plants in the country. The pace of technology advancement in the WtE segment has also improved over the years. Urban local bodies are deploying advanced control and automation solutions for WtE facilities. A number of new projects are being announced by urban local bodies across the country under various programmes.
Lending further weight to the segment, NITI Aayog is considering setting up a Waste-to-Energy Corporation of India, on the lines of Solar Energy Corporation of India, to promote development. The MNRE, on its part, is considering modifying the current renewable purchase obligation policy to have a separate WtE-specific 1 per cent obligation for discoms,open access buyers and industrial users.
All these initiatives augur well for a segment that has been demanding a strong policy push for decades. That said, it is also important to mention that a comprehensive and creative policy mix for effective waste management will not be possible without political will and strong public demand for cleaner, healthier living environments. Time will only tell if all the aforementioned missions and schemes lead to quantifiable results.