Out of the 15 most polluted cities with regard to PM2.5 level in the world, 11 cities are in India. Some of these cities mostly along the River Ganga belt are Delhi, Kanpur, Faridabad, Varanasi, Agra, Lucknow, and Patna. Ambient air pollution is widely known to have severe negative impacts on human health. When emitted into the atmosphere, oxides of sulphur (SOx), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and mercury undergo chemical reactions to form compounds that can travel long distances. These fine particle compounds contribute to death and serious respiratory illnesses (e.g., asthma, chronic bronchitis, and so on). Exposure to particulate matter (PM) leads to various diseases that have short- and long-term health effects. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) reported India’s ambient air pollution-related premature mortality at 0.67 million in 2017. A recent assessment at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) on the health impacts of air pollution reveals that total mortality due to ambient air pollution could be 0.76 million in 2020.
Impact of Power Sector on Air Pollution
In India, of the total environmental pollution in 2016, the power sector reportedly accounted for 51% of SO2, 43% of carbon dioxide (CO2), 20% of NOx, and 7% of PM2.5 emissions.
The coal-fired power generation is considered one of the major sources of environmental pollution in India. Coal-based power plants have dominated the power supply mix since the 1980s. As of March 31, 2020, around 55% of India’s total installed capacity, that is, 370 GW came from coal-based power stations and these accounted for 71% of the total electricity generation during the same financial year. Indian coal has a lower sulphur content (0.3–0.5%) as compared to imported coal (0.6–2%), which is why initially, not many norms were in place for SOx curtailment from thermal power stations (TPSs).
Figure 1: Emission control norms for coal-fired power plants in India
Note: *for TPS more than 500 MW
Current Norms in Place and Deadline for Implementation
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Government of India (GoI), revised the emission norms for TPSs on December 7, 2015, requiring the implementation of the emission control systems (ECSs) within two years from the date of notification.2 The new limits for PM, SOx, and NOx were defined as per Figure 1. Mercury (Hg) emission from power plants was limited to 0.03 mg/Nm3.
The deadline for ECS implementation, December 2017, had to be pushed to December 2019 for all TPSs situated in the national capital region (NCR) and December 2022 for the rest of the TPSs in the country in view of the sheer volume of work, implementation issues and challenges, new admission of chimney height and lining guidelines, and the critical need to maintain the supply of electricity.
Current Status of Compliance in India
The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) prepared a detailed plan in consultation with the utilities that include flue gas desulphurizers (FGDs) and electrostatic precipitator (ESP) implementation in a phased manner to obey the target date. As far as the PM emission norm compliance is concerned, out of 66 GW TPS capacity identified for ESP implementation/upgradation, an implementation plan for 65 GW (99%) is already in place.
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