Approach :

  • Intro highlighting recent coal shortage & power shortage.
  • Significance of coal in India’s energy mix.
  • Present state & challenges of renewable energy sector.
  • Way forward.

Recently, many top power consuming states are planning to import coal to cope with power crisis. Coal stocks in more than 100 thermal power plants fell below 25% of the required stock, while it was less than 10% in over 50 plants. Presently, 72.5 MT of coal is available from different sources and 22.01 MT with thermal power plants. Declining coal stocks and resulting power outages in several states have raised queries on renewable energy’s potential to fill in the conventional resource gap.

Need for coal: coal accounts for 55% of the country’s energy needs. India Energy Outlook 2021 report of IEA states that India’s energy use has doubled since 2000, with 80% of the demand still met by coal, oil & solid biomass. With household power demand picking up along with sudden acceleration in economic activity, it has resulted in demand-supply mismatch. The energy demands will increase as urbanisation & population increase. The IEA estimates that India’s demand is expected to grow by 5% per annum till 2040.

Coal is abundantly available, with shorter gestation periods and coal-based plants have lower capital costs than hydel & nuclear plants. So it is the most viable enabler of energy security.

State & challenges of renewable energy sector: Central Electricity Authority’s report on optimal generation capacity estimates the share of renewable energy in gross electricity generation to around 40%. A total 152.90 GW renewable energy capacity is installed, which includes 50.78 GW from solar power, 40.13 GW from wind power, 10.63 GW from bio-power, 4.84 GW from small hydel power and 46.52 GW from large hydel power.

India aspires to install 500 GW of non-fossil fuel based electric capacity by 2030. In 2020-21, acc. to CEA, 1381.83 billion units was generated, of which 297.55 bu (21.5%) came from renewable energy sources. Over the next 10 years, coal fired power generation will bridge the gap, given the growth of renewables is not sufficient to meet the projected pace of electricity demand growth.

Challenges: the plants’ capacity does not necessarily translate into actual power generation for the grid due to loss from external factors like heat & transmission losses. Solar & Wind energy are variable resources – e.g. solar energy is abundant during day-time, however, domestic power consumption peaks in the evenings. Additionally, there are seasonal variations. In monsoons, solar energy is barely available with wind energy available in abundance. Spatial variability – coastal regions enjoy more wind and so, possess greater ability to produce wind energy.

Transmission & storage are critical to addressing variability issues to cope with the ‘duck curve’ (differential between demand & availability of energy). A model complementing the variable resources must be developed. This requires import & export of technologies as well as optimising trade between differing demand & production profiles.

Thus, in the immediate future, neither the need for coal-based thermal power in India’s energy mix can be overlooked, nor can coal be immediately replaced. Thermal plants provide flexibility to demand centres during periods of low renewables availability.

Legacy Editor Changed status to publish April 26, 2022