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India heads for a sizzling power crisis

by | Apr 27, 2022 | Business, India

A sweltering summer gets worse with a looming power crisis because of production disruptions thanks to skyrocketing prices of coal.
"Power House" by VikramDeep is marked with CC BY 2.0.

New Delhi: State power distribution companies have resorted to power cuts of between five and eight hours in some states, with electricity demand surging by up to 30% in the past few days as compared to the same time last year due to the heat wave in the plains of India, even as the government scrambles to ensure adequate coal supply for the thermal power plants, officials said.

Electricity demand is likely to increase in the coming week with the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) predicting severe heat wave till May 2, with the maximum temperature likely cross 45 degrees Celsius in states such as Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha and Maharashtra. On Tuesday, several places in India saw maximum temperatures in excess of 42 degrees Celsius.

Thermal power plants account for 70% of India’s power generation capacity of 3,99,496 MW and according to the power ministry’s website some are running below 30- 40% capacity on account of coal shortage. The power ministry has highlighted shortage of rakes (train coaches built to transport coal) to transport coal to power plants, leading to some states such as Uttar Pradesh transporting coal through trucks.

In an interview to PTI on Sunday, Coal Secretary A K Jain attributed the low coal stocks at power plants to several factors such as heightened power demand due to the boom in the economy post COVID-19, early arrival of summer, rise in the price of gas and imported coal and sharp fall in electricity generation by coastal thermal power plants.

He added the gas-based power generation which has fallen drastically in the country has aggravated the crisis. “Some of the thermal power plants in India were built along the coast so that imported coal could be used, brought from nearby countries like Indonesia… But with the sharp rise in the price of imported coal they have reduced the imports,” Jain said.

On Tuesday, the amount of coal available in power plants was 33% of the normative stock, meaning that they could function for a week . The normative stock level has dipped by five percentage points since April 11 and three since Friday. The normative coal stock refers to the amount of coal needed to run a power plant at 85% Power Load Factor (PLF) or capacity for 26 days.

In some of the states, the situation looks bad. For instance, in West Bengal, the coal available is only 5 % of the normative stock, in Tamil Nadu, 7%, in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, 14%, in Uttar Pradesh, 19%, in Gujarat, 23%, in Karnataka, 16% and Andhra Pradesh, 11%. According to officials in these states, they don’t have enough coal to run power plants for more than three to five days.

However, an immediate crisis may be averted because the National Thermal Power Corporation, the biggest supplier of electricity in the country, is maintaining 55% normative coal stock. And coal mining states such as Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha are not facing any coal shortgage. In a statement, the Chhattisgarh government said that they have coal stocks for 13 -14 days and all coal fired plants are running at more than 80% PLF, much higher than PLF of 35-60% in some other states. Odisha is also able to meet its daily power demand of 4,150 MW.

The daily coal report of the power ministry shows that 97 of the 150 power plants in the country have low coal supplies, less than 25% of the normative stock. As not enough coal is available, there is a dip in power generation in thermal plants by 25-30%, especially those run by state governments, said a senior Rajasthan government official. For instance, in Rajasthan, as against the capacity of 10,110 MW, thermal power plants are generating only about 6,000 MW. In Punjab, against the installed capacity of 5,680 MW of thermal power, only 3350 MW power is being generated.

Even though supply from renewable energy sources such as hydro has increased, it not enough to meet the dip in electricity generated by thermal power plants. What had added to the problem is that plants with capacity of around 70,000 MW (of a total of 2,36,108 MW of thermal capacity) are closed for maintenance or on account of other reasons, the Central Electricity Authority said in its daily report.

The demand of power in the country has increased from 179,098 MW in February to 191,834 MW on Monday with a spike in consumption evident in warmer states such as Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh. Rajasthan energy secretary Bhaskar A Sawant, said the electricity demand has increased by 31% as compared to same period last year. An official in Madhya Pradesh said there is jump of about 30% in demand.

“Electricity is not even available from other sources including energy exchange, even at higher price,” Sawant added. This sentiment was echoed by officials in the Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh power departments. As a result, these states have been forced to cut power for five to eight hours depending on availability. Most of the power cuts are in smaller towns and villages, officials said.

Debashish Mishra of private consultancy firm Deloitte said there is a demand supply mismatch because for the first time in 3 years, there is 8% to 8.5% growth in electricity demand due to post Covid recovery and heat wave conditions in northern India and Coal India has not been able to increase production.

“Production from captive coal mines have dried up and prices of imported coal has risen up to three times due to geo-political situation (Ukraine war) leading to supply disruption. And due to freebies, the financial condition of state power companies is not good enough to stock enough coal,” he said.

Mishra added that situation can be grave in post-monsoon period of September-October when there is disruption in coal supplies because of rains. “Normally, these months the power companies stock coal for post-monsoon period. But, because of high electricity demand this has not happened. There is just 23 million tonnes of coal at power plants and 58-60 million tonnes is still to be lifted from mines. There should be at least 40 million tonnes at power plants before monsoon,” he said.

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