An 11 percent deficit in the monsoon season compared to the long-term average, along with a significant 36 percent shortfall in August, has led to an increased demand for electricity. Simultaneously, this has put pressure on the sources of power supply. As a result, there has been a heavy reliance on coal-fired power generation to meet the surging demand. This heightened demand is a consequence of elevated temperatures and the necessity to extract more groundwater for agricultural irrigation.
GS3- Mobilisation of Resources
How has the deficit in monsoon put a pressure on the hydel power generation? What can be done to ease this pressure? (15 marks, 250 words).
Hydel Power takes a hit:
- The decrease in hydel power production is a direct result of the dry conditions affecting most of peninsular India. According to an announcement from the Power Ministry, this year’s maximum hydropower generation has fallen below 40 GW, compared to 45 GW in the previous year.
- Consequently, thermal power generation has had to shoulder the majority of the load. The significant surge in electricity demand in July and August serves as a reminder that coal will remain India’s primary energy source, despite the fact that nearly all new capacity expansions are occurring in renewable energy sources, accounting for 93 percent in FY23.
- Solar power (71 GW) and wind power (44 GW) make up approximately one-quarter of the total installed capacity of 423 GW but contribute only 7 percent and 9 percent, respectively, to the total power generated. In contrast, thermal power accounts for 73 percent, as per an analysis by the Vasudha Foundation.
- The absence of practical battery storage technologies means that solar and wind power cannot be relied upon to meet sudden spikes in power demand, especially during “non-solar hours” such as evenings and beyond.
- According to the Ministry’s statement, the power shortfall is particularly pronounced during these times, even though peak demand, which reached a record 241 GW on September 1st, was comfortably met during the “solar hours.”
- The Ministry has appropriately emphasized that power generation companies should secure coal imports for blending purposes to prevent any power cuts in the upcoming months.
- To minimize generation downtime, maintenance of power units should be scheduled during periods of low demand. Currently, due to these unplanned outages, the thermal capacity of 12-14 GW is unavailable.
- This strategy should be coupled with efforts to smooth out the demand curve throughout the day using time-of-day tariffs. This will help prevent excessive strain on the power grid and its infrastructure during demand spikes.
- Additionally, it’s imperative for battery storage technologies to become economically feasible. Only then can India’s power systems effectively handle the increased power supply from renewable sources.
Nevertheless, the current power situation is not a cause for alarm. Coal production during both July and August exceeded 60 million tonnes each month, representing an increase of at least 13-18 percent compared to last year. Additionally, coal reserves at coal-fired power plants, amounting to approximately 30 million tonnes, are sufficient to meet around 11 days’ worth of demand. However, it is vital to emphasize the need for coordination among the coal, power, and, most importantly, Railway ministries to ensure the timely transportation of coal from mines to power plants in the upcoming months when the power situation tends to deteriorate.