news from the PetroCoal Congress in New Delhi

The 9th World PetroCoal Congress, was a three-day-event held in New Delhi, India from 15-17 February 2019. It was supported by the Ministries of Petroleum & Natural Gas, Coal, Power, Earth Sciences and Department of Science & Technology, Government of India.

The organiser claims that it is the world’s only congress on petroleum, coal and gas industries. This year the focus was on ‘Energy, Environment, Efficiency, Equity & Entrepreneurship for a Greener Planet’. There were various speakers from the UK – WCA (World Coal Association), Fuel Economy Solution Ltd., the IEA Clean Coal Centre, and Argus Media Ltd of Singapore, as well as from the Indian government, mining, oil and gas industries, research institutes/universities, steel makers, and many more. There were also many students, in particular, many young women from Indian universities attending the conference. It is pleasing to see so many females are now studying engineering and interested in working in the energy sector. Representing the IEA Clean Coal Centre, I gave a talk on the ‘Latest technology development in HELE (high efficiency low emissions) coal power’, which was well received.

India has a fast growing economy;  the average annual GDP growth rate reached almost 7% during the period of 2012-18. Its economy is currently the third largest in the world, surpassed only by China and the USA. According to BP Statistical Review of World Energy (2018), India was the world’s third largest energy consumer after China and the USA in 2017. India is currently the world’s second most populous country and is expected to have the world’s largest population by 2040. Many forecasters believe that India will be one of the fastest-growing economies in the world over the next several decades. The country’s large population and potential for fast economic growth will almost certainly drive its increasing energy demand, which no doubt will have a considerable impact on the environment. India is increasingly focused on developing alternative sources of energy, particularly nuclear, solar and wind. The Indian government plans to achieve 40% of its energy from non-fossil sources by 2030 which is currently ~30% and to increase its renewable power capacity to 175 GW by 2022.

Despite the significant growth of renewables, coal still accounts for the primary share of generation in India, supplying 74% of its electricity. BP projects that Indian primary energy consumption will grow 156% by 2040. 42% of this new energy demand is to be met through coal, meaning CO2 emissions roughly double by 2040.

India is largely dependent on fossil fuel imports, particularly oil and gas but also on coal, to meet its energy demands. It is expected that by 2030, India’s dependence on energy imports will exceed >50% of the country’s total energy consumption. At the conference, many of the delegates from the Indian government and energy sectors enthusiastically talked about the need to explore domestic oil and gas resources (including natural gas hydrates) and to develop technologies to enable that to happen. Some delegates showed great interest in technologies for the conversion of coal to gaseous or liquid fuel and/or chemicals production through coal gasification or liquefication. There were also some interesting presentations on waste to energy and CO2 reduction from steel making by Tata Steel.

However, I would like to see more talks about work conducted and progress made on efficiency improvements and environmental protection in India, which was some of the focus of this conference.

Coal has the largest share in India’s power generation and India has many old, inefficient coal power plants that are not equipped with modern emissions control systems and often burn low-quality coal. As a result of the rapid power demand/production growth in India, air pollution frequently hits the headline.

When the plane I was on approached New Delhi airport, the air pollution there was literally visible to me. A recent study by researchers at ETH Zurich in Switzerland showed that power plants in India have the highest toll in the world when it comes to health. The Indian government has recently established more stringent emission standards for coal-fired power plants. Emissions control systems have been retrofitted over the last decade, but the progress has been slow. In addition to air pollutants, inefficient power plants also generate more CO2 emissions for a unit of electricity produced. With the number of coal power plants under construction or planned to be built, India also faces a huge challenge in reducing CO2 emissions to meet the goal of the Paris Agreement.

It would be beneficial if the future World PetroCoal Congress could highlight the importance of equal access for Indian people to clean air, clean water and clean energy.