By Niyathi Sivaram
India, the second-largest producer of coal and also the second-largest coal importer was on the brink of a power crisis as coal stocks in the country diminished to a great extent. As of October 6, 2021, 80% of India’s coal-powered plants had less than 8 days of supplies left.
Thermal power plants contribute to 70% of the country’s power requirements. Some states have experienced power outages in an attempt to save power.
Why the power crisis?
The opening of the Indian economy post-covid-19 has seen a steep spike in demand from industries. The consumption of power has increased by 17% in the last two months.
The world witnessed an exponential rise in international coal prices, which made coal importing difficult for India. This price global price rise was due to an increase in natural gas prices, reduced coal supplies from China due to natural calamities, and increasing global demand.
Even though India has the fourth largest coal reserves, domestic industries are unable to produce enough coal. The extended monsoon season in India has also been a reason for slowing down the mining operations.
With the festival season underway, the demand might rise further. If the crisis continues the rise in prices of electricity may be felt by the consumers.
The government is planning to get coal from “captive” mines. Captive mines are owned by private companies and produce coal for only that company and normally do not sell coal to other businesses.
State-owned coal India Ltd has been asked to increase coal supply to power producers. The states have also been asked to supply unallocated power to the consumers of the states and in case of surplus power; the states must communicate with the center so the power can be distributed to other needy states.
What is the alternative?
India is heavily dependent on coal for its energy. Eventually, India has to make a transition from the usage of fossil fuels to the use of renewable energy.
Almost four million people are employed directly and indirectly in India’s coal industries, according to a report from the Brookings Institution. Meeting the demand of more than a billion Indians and still trying to cut its reliance on coal-powered plants is a challenging task for India.
India is making significant efforts to shift to cleaner energy. As of July 2021, India had 96.96 GW of renewable energy capacity and represents 25.2% of the overall installed power capacity. The country is targeting about 450 Gigawatt (GW) of installed renewable energy capacity by 2030 – about 280 GW (over 60%) is expected from solar, according to Indian Renewable Energy Industry Report.
As of September 2021, of the total (3,88,849 MW) installed generation capacity fuel wise break up is as follows – Fossil fuel (coal, Lignite, Gas, Diesel ) – 234024 MW (60.2%), Hydro – 46512 (12%), Wind, Solar and other renewable – 1,01, 533(26.1%), Nuclear – 6780(1.7%)(Source: Central Electricity Authority)
European countries were also reminded of how dependent they were on fossil fuels when the international prices rose and the demand rose but the supply of natural gases from Russia decreased.
However, in Europe, since UN Paris Climate Agreement, Coal has seen a sharp decline in Europe. Thirteen countries in Europe are coal-free and eleven more have adopted decisions to phase out coal before 2030. Half of Europe’s 324 coal power plants have either already closed or pledged to shut down before 2030.
As of 2018, global energy-related CO2 emissions rose 1.7% to a historic high of 33.1 Gt CO2. While emissions from all fossil fuels increased, the power sector accounted for nearly two-thirds of emissions growth. Coal use in power alone surpassed 10 Gt CO2, mostly in Asia. China, India, and the United States accounted for 85% of the net increase in emissions, while emissions declined for Germany, Japan, Mexico, France, and the United Kingdom, according to Global Energy and CO2 Status Report 2019.
With the upcoming Conference of Parties (COP) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Glasgow, Oct 31, countries will gather to discuss the most significant question about how to reduce carbon emission from coal, oil, and other fossil fuels.