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India’s Changing Goal Posts Over Coal


Recently, Finance Minister said India’s transition away from coal as a fuel for power would be hampered by the Russia-Ukraine war.


GS III- Indian Economy

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is Coal?
  2. Types of Coal
  3. Why is the ‘move away from coal’ so important?
  4. What is the extent of India’s dependence on coal?
  5. How has war made India’s move away from coal difficult?

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 Hindu

June 2024