India’s coal imports increased by 30 per cent to 162.46 million tonnes in the 2022-23 financial year against 124.99 MT in the year-ago period
GS-III Indian Economy, Industry and Infrastructure
Dimensions of the Article:
- Key points
- What is Coal?
- Types of Coal
- Why is the ‘move away from coal’ so important?
- What is the extent of India’s dependence on coal?
- How has war made India’s move away from coal difficult?
- As per the latest report, there has been an increase in India’s coal imports by 30 per cent to 162.46 million tonnes in the 2022-23 financial year against 124.99 MT in the year-ago period.
- India is among the top five coal-producing countries in the world.
- However, some parts of its coal requirement are met through imports as the country is also among the major consumers of the dry fuel.
- India is heavily dependent on imports when it comes to coking coal, a key raw material used in steel making.
- Reason for the rise in Imports: The persistently high demand for steam coal in India coupled with the weakening of seaborne prices led to the rise.
What is Coal?
- Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock rich in carbon and hydrocarbons that takes millions of years to develop, making it a non-renewable energy source.
- Coal is also known as black gold
- It contains energy stored by plants that flourished hundreds of millions of years ago in swampy forests.
- Coal is made up of carbon, volatile matter, moisture, and ash, as well as [in some situations] sulphur and phosphorus.
- Metallurgy and power generation are the most common applications for this material.
Coal is divided into two groups in India:
- Gondwana Coalfields, which are 250 million years old,
- Tertiary Coalfields, which are 15 to 60 million years old.
Types of Coal
It can be classified into the following types on the basis of carbon content:
- This coal is of the highest quality, containing 80 to 95 percent carbon.
- It contains extremely little volatile substances and a little amount of moisture.
- It’s a hard, compact jet black coal with a semi-metallic lustre. It is the most valuable and has the highest heating value of all the coal kinds.
- It is only found in limited quantities in India, and only in Jammu and Kashmir (near Kalakot).
- This is the most common coal. It has a wide range of carbon content (60 to 80 percent) and moisture content.
- It is dense, compact, and usually black in colour; it contains no remnants of the original vegetable material from which it was made; and it has a high calorific value due to a high carbon content and low moisture content.
- Bituminous coal is utilised not only for steam generation and heating, but also for the manufacturing of coke and gas due to its high quality.
- Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh produce the majority of bituminous coal.
- Lignite, also known as brown coal, is a lower-grade coal that contains 40 to 55 percent carbon and is the intermediate stage in the transformation of woody matter to coal.
- Its colour ranges from dark to black-brown, and its moisture content (around 35%) means it produces a lot of smoke but little heat.
- It can be found in Rajasthan’s Palna, Tamil Nadu’s Neyveli, Assam’s Lakhimpur, and Jammu & Kashmir’s Karewa.
- This is the first stage of the transformation of wood into coal, and it comprises less than 40% to 55% carbon, plenty of volatile stuff, and a lot of moisture.
- It is rarely compact enough to create a decent fuel without being compressed into bricks.
- When left to its own devices, it behaves like wood, emitting less heat, producing more smoke, and producing a lot of ash.
Why is the ‘move away from coal’ so important?
- The threat of global warming looms over the planet, promising to bring about unprecedented natural calamities.
- An effective way to keep the danger at bay is to cut the use of fossil fuels — coal, natural gas and oil.
- About 80% of the world’s energy requirements are met by these three fuels.
- They have likely brought on the climate crisis we now face, as they trigger the emission of carbon dioxide.
Worst culprit: Coal
- It emits nearly twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas and about 60% more than oil, on a kilogram-to-kilogram comparison.
- Combusting coal also leaves behind partially-burnt carbon particles that feed pollution and trigger respiratory disorders.
- The consequence of these chemical reactions gains great significance because, the power sector in India accounts for 49% of total carbon dioxide emissions, compared with the global average of 41%.
What is the extent of India’s dependence on coal?
- As of February 2022, the installed capacity for coal-based power generation across the country was 2.04 lakh megawatt (MW).
- This accounts for about 51.5% of power from all sources.
- This compares with about 25,000 MW of capacity based on natural gas as fuel, or a mere 6.3% of all installed capacity.
- Renewable power accounted for 1.06 lakh MW or 27%.
- Coal-based power stations are retired periodically which happens all the time.
- But is not fast enough nor are new additions being halted. And with good reason – coal is still inexpensive compared with other sources of energy.
- For FY20, for example, India added 6,765 MW power capacity based on coal as fuel. But only 2,335 MW was retired.
- According to the IEA’s Coal Report 2021, India’s coal consumption will increase at an average annual rate of 3.9% to 1.18 billion tonnes in 2024.
How has war made India’s move away from coal difficult?
- Natural gas has been dubbed as the transition fuel in India’s plans to move away from coal.
- The international cost of natural gas has zoomed in the recent past from a level that was considered already too high to be financially viable.
- On May 17, 2022, the price per MMBTU of gas was ₹1,425, compared with ₹500 in April, 2021.
- Even back in November last, well before the war made things difficult, the government put in place a committee to ensure that natural gas prices remained stable.
- Of the 25,000 MW of gas-based power plants, about 14,000 MW remains stranded, or idle, because they are financially unviable.
- While renewable energy sources are cheaper than coal, their ability to generate power consistently is subject to the whims of nature — the wind and the Sun.
- Coal can give you power on demand.
- Storage technologies are still not mature enough to help renewable energy sources become reliable generators of power.
-Source: The Indian Express