India is facing an energy crisis. Coal reserves in power plants have fallen to unprecedentedly low levels, warning states of power outages. According to the Indian Central Electricity Authority, almost 80 percent of the country’s coal-fired power plants are in a critical phase. Their supplies could be depleted in less than five days.
Over the weekend, Delhi’s head of government, Arvind Kejriwal, wrote to Prime Minister Narendre Modi that the capital “could face a power outage if the power plants do not get more coal.” States including Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Bihar are experiencing power outages lasting up to 14 hours.
In Maharashtra, 13 thermal power plants have been shut down. According to the authorities, people should treat electricity with care. Three power plants have stopped production in the Punjab. The planned power outages in Punjab, which last up to six hours a day, have provoked protests.
However, experts emphasized that the problems with electricity are not only caused by a lack of domestic coal production. Coal mining in India has grown exponentially over the last two decades, although there was a smaller decline in production between 2019 and 2020 as a result of the pandemic. Conversely, energy providers and India’s state-owned coal producer, Coal India Limited, are accused of failing to build up sufficient stocks.
“The current crisis is not reflected in a lack of mining potential, caused by incorrect prediction, planning and storage of coal by energy producers and the energy regulator,” said Sunil Dahiya, an analyst at the Center for Energy and Clean Air Research. Dahiya added this year’s heavy monsoon rains to the fact that domestic coal mining has been reduced.
To bridge the production gap, more coal is usually simply imported from abroad. However, due to the global energy crisis, when international prices have reached record levels, the import of more coal is more costly than in the past.
India’s chief economist at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, Vibhuti Garg, said there had been a significant increase in demand for electricity recently. India has again overcome the lockdown caused by the covid-19 pandemic. Garg added, however, that this could have been expected a few months ago, so he did not surprise energy companies.
Transition to renewables?
“Various stakeholders are to blame,” said Garg, who called the problem “scary.” But he said the situation would soon improve. “The developers were playing for sure and thought that another wave of covid-19 would strike at this time of year, dampening demand. So they didn’t do enough to build up coal. That has now led us to this crisis situation, “added Garg.
Garg said the “introduction of renewable energy sources” had also slowed over the past year. “If the Indian government focused on increasing the capacity of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and hydro, the increased demand could be met through them. This crisis was preventable, “said Garg.
Indian Energy Minister Raj Kumar Singh tried to allay fears of energy shortages, saying that “the panic over coal shortages was caused unnecessarily”. According to Coal Minister Pralhad Joshi, heavy rains and the high international price of coal may be to blame for the supply disruption. According to him, “everything will be fine” in the next three to four days.
However, according to The Guardian, local governments can use the coal shortage to promote the construction of new coal mines in protected areas. India already plans to increase domestic coal production to 1 billion tons per year by 2024. “Several stakeholders are using this situation to push for further coal mining. He cites the low availability of coal as a reason, which is not true at all, “said Dahiya.
Any further expansion of mining will primarily affect Indian rural communities, which live in forests covering India’s largest coal reserves. According to The Guardian, people are already bearing the brunt of the environmental damage caused by coal mining.
If India wants to achieve the climate goals it has committed to in the coming years, it will have to get rid of coal mining, at least in part, wrote The Guardian. At the same time, coal-fired power plants currently cover almost 70 percent of all electricity production there.
“I think the government is using this situation as an opportunity to push for the expansion of coal-fired power generation. At the same time, electricity production from coal is expensive and prices will continue to rise. On the other hand, renewable energy production is cheap and prices are likely to fall further, ”said Garg.
India is not the only country facing concerns about power outages or fuel shortages. The two main Lebanese power plants, Al Zahraj and Deir Ammar, ran out of fuel on Sunday, leaving the country without electricity for 24 hours. Electricity also fell out in a number of Chinese provinces in September. In the UK, the military began helping with the delivery of fuel from warehouses to petrol stations.