Waste-to-Energy in India: An Interview with Salman Zafar

India’s waste-to-energy sector, which kicked off in 1987, is still searching for a successful role model, even after tens of millions of dollars of investment. In recent years, many ambitious waste-to-energy projects have been established or are being planned in different parts of the country, and it is hoped that things will brighten up in the coming years. Salman Zafar, CEO of BioEnergy Consult, talks to Power Today magazine on India’s tryst with waste-to-energy and highlights major challenges and obstacles in making waste-to-energy a success story in India.

Power Today: What are the challenges that the Waste to Energy sector faces in the current scenario where there is a rejuvenated interest in clean energy? Do you think the buzz around solar and wind power has relegated the Waste to Energy sector to the back benches?

Salman Zafar: India’s experience with waste-to-energy has been lackluster until now. The progress of waste-to-energy sector in India is hampered by multiples issues including

  1. poor quality of municipal waste,
  2. high capital and O&M costs of waste-to-energy systems,
  3. lack of indigenous technology,
  4. lack of successful projects and failure of several ambitious projects,
  5. lack of coordination between municipalities, state and central governments,
  6. heavy reliance on government subsidies,
  7. difficulties in obtaining long-term Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with state electricity boards (SEBs)
  8. lukewarm response of banks and financial institutions and (9) weak supply chain.

Waste-to-energy is different from solar (or wind) as it essentially aims to reduce the colossal amount of solid wastes accumulating in cities and towns all over India. In addition to managing wastes, waste-to-energy has the added advantage of producing power which can be used to meet rapidly increasing energy requirements of urban India. In my opinion, waste-to-energy sector has attracted renewed interest in the last couple of years due to Swachch Bharat Mission, though government’s heavy focus on solar power has impacted the development of waste-to-energy as well as biomass energy sectors.

Power Today: India has a Waste to Energy potential of 17,000 MW, of which only around 1,365 MW has been realised so far. How much growth do you expect in the sector?

Salman Zafar: As per Energy Statistics 2015 (refer to http://mospi.nic.in/Mospi_New/upload/Energy_stats_2015_26mar15.pdf), waste-to-energy potential in India is estimated to be 2,556 MW, of which approximately 150 MW (around 6%) has been harnessed till March 2016.

The progress of waste-to-energy sector in India is dependent on resolution of MSW supply chain issues, better understanding of waste management practices, lowering of technology costs and flexible financial model. For the next two years, I am anticipating an increase of around 75-100 MW of installed capacity across India.

Power Today: On the technological front, what kinds of advancements are happening in the sector?

Salman Zafar: Nowadays, advanced thermal technologies like MBT, thermal depolymerisation, gasification, pyrolysis and plasma gasification are hogging limelight, mainly due to better energy efficiency, high conversion rates and less emissions. Incineration is still the most popular waste-to-energy technology, though there are serious emission concerns in developing countries as many project developers try to cut down costs by going for less efficient air pollution control system.

Power Today: What according to you, is the general sentiment towards setting up of Waste to Energy plants? Do you get enough cooperation from municipal bodies, since setting up of plants involves land acquisition and capital expenditure?

Salman Zafar: Waste-to-energy projects, be it in India or any other developing country, is plagued by NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) effect. The general attitude towards waste-to-energy is that of indifference resulting in lukewarm public participation and community engagement in such projects.

Government should setup dedicated waste-to-energy research centres to develop lost-cost and low-tech waste to energy solutions

Lack of cooperation from municipalities is a major factor in sluggish growth of waste-to-energy sector in India. It has been observed that sometimes municipal officials connive with local politicians and ‘garbage mafia’ to create hurdles in waste collection and waste transport. Supply of poor quality feedstock to waste-to-energy plants by municipal bodies has led to failure of several high-profile projects, such as 6 MW MSW-to-biogas project in Lucknow, which was shut down within a year of commissioning due to waste quality issues.

Power Today: Do you think that government policies are in tandem when it comes to enabling this segment? What policies need to be changed, evolved or adopted to boost this sector?

Salman Zafar: A successful waste management strategy demands an integrated approach where recycling and waste-to-energy are given due importance in government policies. Government should strive to setup a dedicated waste-to-energy research centre to develop a lost-cost and low-tech solution to harness clean energy from millions of tons of waste generated in India.

The government is planning many waste-to-energy projects in different cities in the coming years which may help in easing the waste situation to a certain extent. However, government policies should be inclined towards inclusive waste management, whereby the informal recycling community is not robbed of its livelihood due to waste-to-energy projects.

Government should also try to create favourable policies for establishment of decentralized waste-to-energy plants as big projects are a logistical nightmare and more prone to failure than small-to-medium scale venture.

Note: This interview was originally published in June 2016 edition of Power Today magazine. 

About Salman Zafar

Salman Zafar is the CEO of BioEnergy Consult, and an international consultant, advisor and trainer with expertise in waste management, biomass energy, waste-to-energy, environment protection and resource conservation. His geographical areas of focus include Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Salman has successfully accomplished a wide range of projects in the areas of biogas technology, biomass energy, waste-to-energy, recycling and waste management. Salman has participated in numerous national and international conferences all over the world. He is a prolific environmental journalist, and has authored more than 300 articles in reputed journals, magazines and websites. In addition, he is proactively engaged in creating mass awareness on renewable energy, waste management and environmental sustainability through his blogs and portals. Salman can be reached at salman@bioenergyconsult.com or salman@cleantechloops.com.
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12 Responses to Waste-to-Energy in India: An Interview with Salman Zafar

  1. S S R AYYANGAR says:

    As agro based India has more opportunities only thing is dedication and encouragement by Govt and Industrialists .. In India white Gold Cassava kept aside for no reason which is very easy crop with less inputs and earn foreign exchane by producing Ethanol and other useful chemicals and foods..

  2. kumars iyer says:

    good news is that govt announced yesterday that states must implement one lakh bio-energy plants http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/Centre-asks-states-to-set-up-one-lakh-biogas-plants-in-FY17/articleshow/52954946.cms

  3. rahul jain says:

    What are the cost implications of the project?

  4. Ravi Pala says:

    Modern society produces massive amount of waste on a daily basis of which a large part ishazardous and cannot be disposed of using conventional treatment. Big projects are a night-mare and more prone to failure. Govt should try to create favorable policies for establishment of decentralised solid waste disposal plants. There is no “one solution” or technology that meets all needs. Some useful equipment using clean technology to ensure the elimination of waste without atmospheric pollution and respecting emission standard, should be invented. It should be an equipment usable at any spot generating wastes.
    Some additions to the equipment on a later date may be made aiming WtE and even by using small stirling engine using heat produced by waste burning.
    Any how this sector has attracted renewed interest due to SWACHCH BHARAT MISSION. Better hope for the days to come.
    Ravi Pala
    Email: ravindran1936@gmail.com

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  7. Sameer M Gandhi says:

    The technology for WTE is expensive, ROI time is considerable i.e. doesnt make good business sense with the terms that government offers . The government doesnt want to spend too much money but wants returns, How’s that possible. China has 300WTE and India has 6. Why? The lack of government focus in to WTE leads one to a conclusion that Swachh Bharat, though a good initiative and launched with good intention, is now just a PR exercise. Solar plants or Wind Farms are good for optics and photos to project a Modern India, but the need to dispose off the waste is more important.

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  11. mithulesh kumar jha says:

    All CONSULTANT comment is very good but how can solve the problem ? biomass plant is running very good position .i can operated 4 plant of municipal solid waste to power.no any confusion about in power plant and environment purpose,mostly consultant and private party is not interest to operating municipal solid waste plant ,the government want to set waste to energy plant and provide all possible facilitate ,but not success due to different reason ? just 3 plant is running in delhi , any time any person who can interested check Total production of energy when i operated 3.75 mw plant at timarpur (1987-1988)during lot of problem of waste calorific value is low ,however successful running the plant some time of summer season.only preparation of R D F is main problem ?

  12. Madhu Ganesh says:

    Waste to Energy is not a method to make energy. The revenue from power reduces the cost of waste management. ROI is not to be calculated from the revenue from power, but the health costs saved, the lives saved, the benefits of better aesthetics and how it improves the quality of life, tourism, the image of the country in the world etc. Unless people change their view to this and pay what it takes to manage waste, waste to energy or Swach Bharath will never take off.

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