Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Tuesday, Apr 06, 2004
No takers yet for BHEL supercritical boilers
Tiruchi , April 5
Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd fears it may not be able to participate in the growing market for supercritical boilers, despite having the technology.
Supercritical boilers are a special type of boilers that are more efficient. Because higher temperature and pressure build up in these boilers, there are technology challenges, like how to prevent the steel walls of the boilers from melting.
The National Thermal Power Corporation is putting up nine power plants of 660 MW capacity each, spread over three locations, using supercritical technology. In addition, APGenco of Andhra Pradesh Government is putting up one supercritical unit, again of 660 MW capacity. The total outlay of these 10 units is about Rs 25,000 crore; the value of the boilers could be about half of it.
And, according to BHEL officials, the market is growing. A committee set up by the Central Electricity Authority, comprising experts from NTPC, BHEL and CEA, has recommended that in future, NTPC will put up supercritical plants of even larger capacity, not less than 800 MW. Because the supercritical boilers are more efficient, experts believe that they have a great potential.
But BHEL's worry is that it may not be able to get a piece of the growing pie. Although the PSU has now learnt the technology (thanks to a collaboration that ran into problems), electricity generators are not willing to buy BHEL's boilers, because there is no supercritical boiler of BHEL's make in operation today. Even if power-generating companies are willing to buy from BHEL, the bankers are reluctant to lend to a project based on an as-yet unproven technology.
A few years ago, BHEL tied up with Deutsche Babcock, which later became Babcock Borsig. Babcock Borsig went bankrupt and its engineering unit was taken over by Hitachi of Japan.
Today, there are only five companies that have the technology Alstom, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Mitsui Babcock Ltd, UK, Izikawa Heavy Industries of Japan and Hitachi.
Except Mitsubishi and Izikawa others are willing to collaborate, but fees and other conditions (such as having to buy certain components) make it expensive and BHEL is not able to quote for projects competitively.
So, what is the way out? "Yes, we are in a bit of a fix, but we will find a way out," says Mr A.K. Mathur, Executive Director, BHEL, Tiruchi unit.
One option is for BHEL to put up a power plant on its own, using its own supercritical boilers a sort of a prototype plant. But this would cost not less than Rs 3,000 crore.
Mr Mathur suggests that the Government might make available some funds, or at least ask the financial institutions to "hand hold" BHEL through its first project.
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