News bulletins are flooded with reports of thinning coal reserves and resulting shortage of power. This blockade in the energy sector forces us to re-evaluate India’s dependence on coal for electric power. Since renewable energy sources will help reduce the dependence on coal, we can also utilize this moment to try and learn a few things about India’s current renewable energy capacity as well.
India depends heavily on coal. It is ranked 2nd in the world for coal consumption and 5th in coal reserves. India is home to almost 9% of coal reserves in the world. But as you might already know, coal isn’t the greenest of resources and has a huge potential in accelerating climate change and global warming.
While analyzing the total coal usage in the world, China is accountable for above 50% and ranks 1st, while India ranks 2nd with over 11%. Although India consumes less coal than China in terms of raw amount by a country mile, the percentage of total energy produced from coal would show us a different picture. As per data from 2018, India used coal to meet almost 56.9% of its energy needs, while China uses coal for nearly 57.7%. In terms of penetration of coal in the energy sector, India and China are at par, and the penetration is quite deep. And hence, it’s no mere coincidence that both are facing severe shortages of electricity at nearly the same time. Since we now know how deep India’s dependence on coal extends, we can look into the matter of coal shortage in India.
As is the case with most crises, the current coal shortage saga also is not the result of a single reason, but involves multiple occurrences converging to form one big mess. The first and foremost reason is a bit too sweet to spit and yet a bit too bitter to swallow. Recovery of the Indian economy, thanks to the resumption of India’s production and manufacturing sector, after the 2nd wave of pandemic was quicker than expected and resulted in a huge demand for electricity. The huge rise in demand also led to unprecedented pressure on the energy sector and had a part to play in the current shortage of power. Heavy rains in coal mines during September was yet another villain in the current story. Heavy rain, especially in open coal mines, makes production difficult. Besides, moisture affects the quality of the produced coal as well. Piece together the quick recovery of the economy and lack of coal stocks in power plants with the prolonged rains which prevents exponential ramping up of production and we can have an almost clear picture of the ongoing power shortage. Besides all this, the growing gap between cost of imported coal and domestic coal has resulted in declining imports and domestic producers had a hard time tackling logistical and supply chain related hurdles to make up for the deficit.
Coal India Ltd Chairperson Pramod Agarwal was quoted saying, “Coal India has got over 40 mn tonnes of stocks which will last for 24 days. So there is no shortage at our level. As of today, 20 lakh tonnes of coal is being supplied to power plants, of which 16.25 lakh tonnes is by CIL, 1.5 lakh tonnes by SCCL, and 2.5 lakh tonnes from different sources which are captive power plants. The current stock of power houses is at a four day level which is not good. But it will improve by the end of this month.” by India Today on 16 th of October. Though power houses have only 4 days of coal stock left, the fact that 20 lakh tonnes of coal is being provided to them, which is 2 to 1.5 lakhs excess per day, means that the stock will be replenished shortly but surely, given that the current situation doesn’t deplete further.
Since we have addressed the coal crisis in India, it’s time we take a look at the penetration of renewable sources in India’s energy sector. India is not a country that has fallen behind in the renewable energy sector. Currently, India ranks 4th among the world in total installed capacity of renewable energy sources with current installed capacity of 141 GW (including large hydro). However, the renewable energy penetration in India stands somewhere around 8.2% of total energy produced, which is not the most impressive number out there. But it is unquestionable that it will rise in the coming years.
As we had mentioned in our article about LPG price hike and resulting impacts on India’s green goals, there is a wide margin of difference between different regions in India. According to the July 2021- country report on India by the International Energy Agency(IEA), the share of solar and wind energy in the 10 renewable energy rich states; namely Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Punjab and Kerala is significantly higher than the national average. To put things into perspective, the percentage of renewable energy generation in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Rajasthan are all well above national averages of the US, China and Japan. Karnataka, the leader in renewable energy generation in India is at par with Germany, Portugal and Ireland at 29.9%.
As for the future, India has ambitious goals in the renewable energy sector. It plans to have a capacity of 175 GW by 2022 and 450 GW before 2030. India is home to few of the largest renewable energy projects in the world such as Bhadla solar park in Rajasthan, Anantapur solar park in Andhra Pradesh and Pavagada solar park in Karnataka to name a few and we cannot exclude the ongoing projects from the discussion. However, it isn’t a story where everything goes right and there are indeed struggles in realising the goals. The easiest way of putting it is that renewable energy projects aren’t always free from all the troubles that haunt other development projects. But for the time being, India seems to be very much on the right path as the penetration of renewable energy in India is expected to hit almost 44% by 2030. And the rise of renewable energy will surely be associated with the fall of non-renewables including good old coal.
Each and every passing debacle concerning non-renewable energy is indeed a wake up call for India. The rising price of coal in the international market and its resulting effect on India is a mere reminder of the country’s dependence on others for energy. With IEA forecasting that India would account for the highest share of energy demand growth over the next two decades, every watt added to current capacity is of utmost value. India’s plans for focussing on green hydrogen is undoubtedly a step in the right direction as the increase in renewable energy would definitely require some sort of a mechanism to store the surplus energy that might not be immediately required by the grid. Additional systems like Carbon Capture and Storage could also be sought to make grid management easier. To conclude, India’s vision and mission along with the pace seems to be just right, at the moment. With determination and will, India can surely become self-reliant for its energy needs and make no mistake, renewables are the ideal solution to do just that.