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Mainstream, VOL LX No 22, New Delhi, May 21, 2022

Why is India on the verge of an unprecedented power crisis? | Tarun Kumar Basu

Saturday 21 May 2022


by Tarun Kumar Basu

The energy crisis appears to be intensifying. Several states across the country are suffering protracted blackouts as scorching heat waves boost energy demand. The country’s electricity demand touched a record high in April as nearly three in four of country’s 1.35 billion people tolerated the hottest pre-summer months in decades. After the lockdowns were lifted, the reopening of the manufacturing units increased the demand for power to a great extent. It is not new that monsoons impact Coal India Limited. (CIL) production every year. India witnessed an extended monsoon season, which exacerbated the coal shortage crisis and also transportation system led to lower off take of coal. We all know that India is the second largest producer and consumer of coal in the world.

 At present, in India, 70 percent of electricity needs are met through thermal power plants across the country. Despite having the fourth largest coal reserves, our country is the second-largest importer of coal after China. Government should pay heed attention over the alternative source of energy such as renewable energy to resolve this regular crisis. But there is a need to accelerate the process to reduce the dependence on coal production and imports. This will also help India in reaching the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2070 which was announced at the COP-26 summit.

Every year we are enduring this situation and also it is well known to the government that coal will continue to be the main energy source of our country for the coming several decades. Some new coal mining projects have been marked in the country. As an example, the West Bengal government is yet to start the process of obtaining environmental clearance for undertaking the Deucha-Pachami coal mining project, which is touted to have the second-biggest coal reserve in the world, in Birbhum district. The global price of oil is increasing due to war between Russia and Ukraine with other global cues. Growing global energy shortage has encouraged coal-exporting countries like Indonesia and Australia to up the export price of coal. We have limited domestic sources of energy. Coal India Limited and the Coal Ministry had asked power plants to stock up, but the utilities kept reducing their inventories. Some organizations, including auto giant Kia Motors and drug manufacturer Pfizer, have informed this worse situation to Narendra Modi. The chairman of All India Power Engineers Federation, Shailendra Dubey, said that as per Central Electricity Authority’s latest daily coal report, the stock at 81 out of a total of 150 thermal power stations using domestic coal is very critical and the condition in other 28 out of 54 private sector thermal plants is significantly poor. As per the statistics, coal stocks at more than 100 thermal power plants in the country have fallen below 25% of the required stock. In more than 50 thermal plants, the stock has fallen below the 10% mark which is a matter of serious concern. According to the data shows by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) as of April 2022, India’s power generation via thermal plants using domestic coal stood at 182.39 GW with an average of 34% coal stock in them. Recently Coal India Limited stated that it had increased its supplies to thermal power stations by 14.2% during the first half of April 2022. Coal generation in coal mines has hit 1.64 MTs per day compared to 1.43 MTs in 2021. Since April, Jharkhand has been facing an average supply shortage of 10-12%, followed by Andhra Pradesh 10%, Uttarakhand 8-10%, Madhya Pradesh 6% and Haryana 4%. The main reason of the shortage has been explained by the Centre’s Management Team (CMT) is the heavy rains in coal mining areas.

Union Coal Minister Pralhad Joshi assured that there will be no crisis to meet the supply of coal for power generation in the country. The Ministry of Railways plans to add 100,000 more wagons to meet the growing demand ,besides constructing dedicated freight corridors to deliver goods more faster to the power plants. The government officials said that the coal stock at 81 out of the 150 government-owned power plants is a matter of concern, on the other, power demand is increasing day by day from 106.6 billion units in 2019 to 132 billion units in 2022.

The cheapest fossil fuel, on which we are heavily dependent, is coal in our country. Government should think over the matter more seriously as this kind of crisis is occurring year after year. The Centre has requested all state governments and power generating companies to import coal to reduce the current crisis and stress on Coal India Limited. At the Paris Accord (COP-26) in last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India would generate 50 per cent of its power requirement from renewable sources by 2030. The energy crisis related to coal shortage may spur the government to act faster on that goal. The cataclysmic situation brings focus to India’s pledge to emphasis on sustainable energy sources such as solar and wind power.


Over Consumption

Our current consumption model relies almost entirely on the use of non-renewable energy sources such as oil, gas, coal and uranium. At the current rate of consumption, oil will be the first fossil fuel to run out. According to projections, there would be between 40 and 60 years of proven reserves of conventional oil. Natural gas could be exploited for another 70 years. For coal, there would be around two centuries of reserves. The energy crisis is a result of many different strains on our natural resources.


According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global energy demand could increase by more than 50% by 2030 in the absence of public policies . Another cause of the crisis has been a steady increase in the world’s population and its demands for fuel and products.

Energ Waste

Energy waste describes the wastage of energy sources, particularly in fuels and electricity. Consequently, the reduction of waste is a colossal source of energy savings, which requires actions both on an individual and collective level.

Aging Infrastructure

Another reason for energy shortage and scarcity is the poor infrastructure of power generating equipment. Most of energy producing companies keep on using outdated equipments that limits energy production. The need to upgrade the infrastructure to increase more power generation.

Renewable Energy Options

Renewable energy, the most powerful alternative still remains unused in most of the countries. The government can use renewable energy in time of crisis and the coal plants can get relieve simultaneously. The best possible solution is to reduce the world’s dependence on natural resources like coal, oil etc. and to improve overall conservation techniques and efforts.

Why is solar energy the best bet?

India has set several projects to increase the share of renewable energy in its energy mix. The government plans to install 175 GW of renewable energy projects by 2022 and 450 GW by 2030. Solar power is a self-sufficient renewable energy and one of the most abundant resources on earth. Just like biomass, wind, hydro, and other renewable energy resources, solar energy is also an alternative energy resource. The advantage of solar energy is that it is a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels which have an expiration on earth. Solar energy does not only promise to bring security and independence; it also provides power that does not depend on being connected to a larger electrical grid. The rooftop solar system is being installed as an alternative in real estate industries as the cost of solar generating equipment has plummeted significantly. There is no scare of constant release of CO2 or other harmful gases. Due to its diverse application, it can also be used for various purposes such as irrigation, solar thermal, water pumping etc. Renewable energy prices have gone down over the years and solar and wind system are highly deflationary. The economics of low-cost renewables are threatening the viability of proposed new coal-fired power plants.

Ultimately we will have to reduce our consumption level of energy. The crisis has shown that coal is an expensive source of electricity generation. We cannot be energy-secure if our consumption exceeds our production badly. We must find ways of improving our standards of living with reduced consumption of energy. The situation has also revealed that coal is an unreliable source of generation because it depends heavily on a long supply chain management. Micro-scale biogas plants, rooftop wind turbines, rooftop solar panels should be promoted aggressively. This will result in energy self-sufficiency. There may be opportunities through sustained fundamental research and development on cleaning processes to improve the environmental acceptability of coal. Finally our aim should be on increasing the production of renewable energy both at the micro and macro levels that will help in accelerating the energy transition to clean energy.

(Author: Tarun Kumar Basu is a free lance journalist)

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