Energy generation from municipal solid waste is still at a nascent stage. While the uptake of waste-to-energy (WtE) projects in the country has increased in recent years, capacity addition in the segment has not picked up pace. At present, only 88.5 MW of power is generated from waste.
The government has given an impetus to the segment through favourable policy and regulatory measures, and programmes such as the Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban) and the Smart Cities Mission. In 2018, the Ministry of Power revised the Tariff Policy, 2006, under the Indian Electricity Act, 2003, making it mandatory for discoms to purchase power from WtE plants. Moreover, the remunerative tariffs set by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission have helped increase investor interest in the segment.
History of WtE development
The first WtE project was conceptualised in 1985 and was set up in 1987 at Timarpur, New Delhi. Based on incineration technology, the plant produced 3.5 MW of power. However, it soon became inoperative due to variations in the quality of waste received and the plant requirement.
Attempts were made again in 2003, but the projects failed to take off. Two of the main reasons for the failure of these projects were the non-availability of segregated waste and the lack of clarity on the assignment of roles among stakeholders involved in the project. In 2007, new initiatives were taken by the government to subsidise WtE plants and develop a long-term solution and framework for WtE generation in the country. As a result, a number of new WtE plants were set up at Kanpur (15 MW), Timarpur-Okhla (16 MW), Solapur (4 MW) and Pune (10 MW). These projects were developed through special purpose vehicles (SPVs) and revenues were generated through the sale of power to discoms at a specified rate.
Of late, technology adoption in the WtE segment has improved. Urban local bodies (ULBs) are deploying advanced control and automation solutions at WtE facilities. Further, these projects are receiving private sector funding. Companies such as the V-Guard Group have invested in the segment, whereas others such as GJ Nature Care and Energy have a few projects in the pipeline. Meanwhile, ULBs are exploring new business models to ensure the profitability and viability of WtE projects. Waste utilisation through conversion to green fuels is also being explored.
Projects in the pipeline
Over the past two to three years, state governments and ULBs have announced plans to undertake WtE projects. The Chennai Corporation has recently proposed the development of two WtE plants, at Perungudi and Kodungaiyur. Together, these plants will generate 32 MW of electricity using incineration technology. Detailed feasibility reports for the two plants have been prepared.
The South Delhi Municipal Corporation and the North Delhi Municipal Corporation too have announced plans to develop two WtE plants. These are a 25 MW plant located in Tehkhand, which will process 2,500 tonnes per day (tpd) of waste, and a 15 MW plant in Bhalswa, which will manage 1,500 tpd of waste. The plant at Tehkhand is expected to be completed by December 2019 while the one at Bhalswa is scheduled to be completed by August 2020. Further, the East Delhi Municipal Corporation plans to expand the waste processing capacity of its existing Okhla WtE plant from 1,200 tpd to 2,000 tpd by November 2019. In addition, the civic agency is setting up an integrated waste processing facility in association with NTPC Limited. The location for the project is yet to be decided. It will comprise a WtE plant, a biomethanation plant, an aerobic composter and a small construction and demolition waste plant. The entire facility will process 2,000 tpd of waste to produce 12 MW of power.
Another unique initiative, proposed by the Kerala government, is a cluster-based integrated solid waste management project. As part of the project, seven WtE plants with a capacity of 5 MW each will be developed at identified locations across the state on a public-private partnership basis. The government has invited bids for WtE plants at Kozhikode, Palakkad and Kannur, but the results are awaited. Meanwhile, bids for plants at Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur, Malappuram and Kollam are yet to be invited.
A similar initiative has been taken by Haryana. It plans to set up WtE plants in 15 clusters under the Integrated Solid Waste Management Scheme. Currently, a 25 MW capacity WtE plant at Bandhwari village in Gurugram is under construction. The plant is being developed at a cost of Rs 5.2 billion, and is expected to be completed by August 2019.
India’s WtE segment has witnessed slow growth in the past. However, upcoming developments in the segment hold promise for stakeholders. Key among these is NITI Aayog’s plan to set up a WtE authority to ease clearance processes, facilitate departmental coordination, etc. However, for a major shift to take place, the challenges pertaining to waste segregation at source, financial constraints, shortage of skilled manpower, and lack of technical and professional capabilities need to be addressed.
As the economy grows faster and further, the country will face an insurmountable waste crisis unless the government gives waste management high priority. The municipal authorities will have a key role to play in this. Currently, civic bodies are under-resourced, understaffed and subject to political manipulation. Municipalities need to be supported by skilled staff and appropriate technology to ensure the smooth functioning of local recycling and composting systems. Thus, innovative and localised business models and technologies need to be devised for different cities. The revival of interest in WtE projects could lead to the installation of 10 GW of bioenergy generation capacity and help achieve the renewable energy target of 175 GW of capacity by 2022.
Case study: Kolhapur WtE project
Kolhapur city generated 165 tonnes of solid waste every day. The dry and wet solid waste was collected from individual houses and public dustbins, and transported to Kasaba Bawada, a village in Kolhapur, which was the only dumping site. The solid waste from big hotels, restaurants, messes, etc. was collected door to door and nominal fees charged.
- Need: In no time, the disposal site at Kasaba Bawada had heaps of waste rising up to 15-20 metres. The hazardous leachate that is secreted from waste was found on the ground at the dumping site. Moreover, the burning of waste led to air pollution. In order to tackle these issues, an alternative method was needed for the disposal of waste.
- Solution: A landfill and a WtE plant were planned.
- Initial challenges: The responsibility for the development of the WtE project was initially given to Zoom Bio-Fertilizers, a Mumbai-based company. The project was, however, stalled in 2011 due to some internal problems. Moreover, Ramky Enviro Engineers Limited failed to carry out door-to-door collection, segregation and transportation of waste. A lack of civic awareness about the scientific disposal of waste was a key reason. In 2013, the Kolhapur Municipal Corporation (KMC) floated a new tender to set up a municipal solid waste-based power project of 1.8 MW at Kasaba Bawada, on a design-build-finance-operate-transfer basis. Mumbai-based Rochem Separation System (India) was selected for the development of the project. Subsequently, an SPV, Kolhapur Green Energy (KGEPL), was formed by Sunil Hi Tech Engineers and its subsidiary Sunil Hi Tech India Infra. Rochem Separation System and Sunil Hi Tech India Infra entered into a shareholding agreement with a shareholding of 88:12 in the SPV.
- Technology: KGEPL selected mass combustion technology for the proposed project. The technology has several advantages over other available WtE technologies. One, it requires less land area. Two, it produces more power with less waste, and three, it causes maximum volume reduction.
- Delays: Work on the project was started in 2014. From the beginning, experts and activists criticised the project. In November 2018, there were also talks about the termination of the project owing to delays. In the same month, it was found that KGEPL had not paid Rs 12.5 million to subcontractors. KMC then set December 31, 2018 as the deadline for the project.
- Commercial operation and current status: The plant finally became operational on January 1, 2019. On the first day, over 100 tonnes of waste was segregated to produce refuse-derived fuel (RDF). The project will receive approval for commercial operation only when experts from IIT carry out technical verification studies regarding the quality of the RDF. In addition to the WtE plant, the company has set up a biogas-based power plant near the main processing unit, which generates over 200 kWh of electricity per day. The electricity generated is used to run the main processing unit.
By Sarthak Takyar