1. India’s changing goal posts over coal

GS Paper-3, Resources.


  • The finance minister stated in April that the Russia-Ukraine war will impede India’s shift away from coal as a source of energy.

About Coal:

Coal is India’s most significant and plentiful fossil fuel. It meets 55 percent of the country’s energy needs. The industrial legacy of the nation was founded on indigenous coal. Hard coal deposits are mostly concentrated in the country’s eastern and south-central regions, spanning among 27 major coalfields.

In recent years, India’s coal business has faced demand-supply imbalances due to a variety of factors, including:

-A fast increase in power demand,

-Supply interruptions induced by longer monsoons, and

-A reduction in imports due to severe rises in worldwide pricing.

Importance of Coal’s in India:

  • Given the low reserve potentiality of petroleum and natural gas, the environmental constraints on hydel projects, and the geopolitical perception of nuclear power, coal continues to play a central role in India’s energy picture.
  • Commercial primary energy consumption in India has increased by around 700% during the previous four decades.
  • Energy consumption in India is predicted to rise as a result of the country’s growing population, developing economy, and desire for a better quality of life.

Coal Scarcity:

  • India is dealing with challenges like: rising energy consumption as industrial activity resumes after epidemic restrictions were eased, and a drop in domestic coal supply.
  • According to official statistics, coal stocks at Indian power plants decreased to roughly 1 million tonnes at the end of September, 76 percent less than a year earlier.
  • The effect on consumer prices would be visible a few months later, when distribution utilities receive regulatory authority to pass on the cost.

The Impact of the Scarcity:

  • If factories encounter electrical shortages, India’s economic reopening may be delayed.
  • Some enterprises may reduce output.
  • Because of India’s large population and undeveloped energy infrastructure, the Power Crisis might last for a long time.

Factors Contributing to Low Coal Production:

  • The present coal scarcity is the result of a sudden increase in electricity consumption as the economy recovers from the Covid-19 outbreak, along with supply concerns.
  • In August 2021, India utilised 124 billion units of electricity, compared to 106 billion units in August 2019, when the epidemic had no effect.
  • Coal-fired thermal power plants have also supplied a greater amount of the rise in demand, raising thermal power’s share of India’s power mix to 66.4 percent from 61.9 percent in 2019.
  • Although the nation satisfies almost three-quarters of its need domestically, torrential rains have inundated mines and crucial transportation routes.
  • Other major causes of the supply shortage include lower-than-normal stock accumulation by thermal power plants in the April-June period and persistent rains.
  • A steady shift toward lesser imports, along with high international coal costs, has resulted in plants reducing imports.

The Rationale for Quitting Coal:

  • The menace of global warming looms over the world, offering unparalleled natural disasters. Reduced usage of fossil fuels — coal, natural gas, and oil — is an effective method to keep the threat at bay. These three fuels provide approximately 80% of the world’s energy requirements.
  • They are most likely to blame for the current climate problem, as they cause carbon dioxide emissions. However, coal is the greatest offender, emitting approximately twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas and roughly 60% more than oil on a kilogramme-to-kilogramme basis.
  • Coal combustion also produces partially-burned carbon particles, which contribute to pollution and cause respiratory problems. The impact of these chemical processes is significant since India’s power sector accounts for 49 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions, compared to the global average of 41 percent.

What is India’s Level of Reliance on Coal?

Coal-fired power plants are decommissioned on a regular basis, which occurs all the time.

However, it is not quick enough, and fresh additions are not being halted.

And with good reason: Coal is still cheap in comparison to other energy sources. According to the IEA’s Coal Report 2021, India’s coal consumption would rise at a 3.9 percent annual pace to 1.18 billion tonnes in 2024. As a result, shifting away from coal is not straightforward.

Measures by the Government:

  • An inter-ministerial committee comprised of members from the Power and Railway Ministries, Coal India Ltd, the Central Electricity Authority, and the Power System Operation Corporation is monitoring coal supplies to thermal power plants.
  • The government is pressuring thermal power plants with captive coal mines to increase coal output so that they can meet more of their own demand, and it is also prioritising coal supply for thermal power plants with low stock levels.
  • The Power Ministry is also attempting to enhance coal supplies by hastening the start of production at a number of mines that currently have the necessary approvals in place.
  • The government has also increased the amount of rakes of coal carried to thermal power plants on a daily basis, with 263 rakes (248 before) despatched from coal mines.
  • In India’s ambitions to shift away from coal, natural gas has been nicknamed the transition fuel. The international price of natural gas has recently skyrocketed from a level that was previously regarded too costly to be commercially sustainable. While renewable energy sources are less expensive than coal, their capacity to provide power on a constant basis is dependent on the whims of nature – the wind and the Sun. Coal can provide us with on-demand power. Storage technologies are yet insufficiently advanced to assist renewable energy sources in becoming reliable power providers.

Way forward:

  • In 2020, the Centre implemented mining reforms to terminate Coal India Limited’s (CILs) monopoly on coal manufacture in India. Commercial mining in the coal sector was made possible by the reforms. Instead of solely captive consumers, any party can bid for coal mines (i.e., companies that use coal for running their businesses). The changes, however, were condemned for causing harm to the indigenous population and woodlands.
  • Optimal Energy Mix in Power Generation: Power is created using a variety of energy sources, including coal, hydro, natural gas, and renewables (solar, wind). This is critical since the future generating capacity mix must be both cost competitive and ecologically benign.
  •  Low-Cost Solar Plants: The average cost of coal-fired projects is Rs.4 per unit, with a rising trend, whereas new solar power plants are bid out at less than Rs.3 per unit.
  • New Coal-Based Unit Technologies: The government has commissioned more efficient supercritical coal-based units, while obsolete and inefficient coal-based capacity is being phased out. A variety of modern technologies (such as coal gasification and coal beneficiation) may be used to make coal-fired power plants more ecologically friendly.


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