Decoded | Is India alone staring at power crisis?
The power crisis is being anticipated on the account of serious shortage of coal reserves in a majority of India’s 135 coal-fired thermal power plants. However, many parts of the world are facing acute power crisis.
Amessage by power distribution company Tata Power Delhi Distribution Ltd (TPDDL) to its consumers saw the central government dismiss reports of an impending power crisis in India. The power crisis is being anticipated on the account of serious shortage of coal reserves in a majority of India’s 135 coal-fired thermal power plants. WHAT HAS JUST HAPPENED?
The message received by consumers on Saturday and again on Sunday read: “Due to limited coal availability in generation plants across the north, power supply scenario between 2-6 pm is at a critical level. Kindly use electricity judiciously. Be a responsible citizen. Inconvenience caused is regretted — Tata Power-DDL.”
The coal ministry on Sunday responded saying fears of disruption in power supply were “entirely misplaced”. The coal ministry said sufficient coal was available in the country to meet the demand of electricity generating plants. In a nutshell, the government asked people not to panic.
Union Power minister RK Singh complained that a “panic has been unnecessarily created about coal shortage”. He attributed the situation to a miscommunication between the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) and Tata Power.
The statement from the government prompted Tata Power to send another message to its consumers on Sunday night: “Based on the support provided by Ministry of Power, GOI and Delhi Govt, generation plants will continue to supply adequate quantity of power to meet the requirements of our consumers. We thank them for the support — Tata Power Delhi Distribution Ltd (sic).”
SO, WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?
Some states have complained about an impending power shortage and written to the central government raising the issue of shortage of coal. Some states have also reported power cuts due to supply shortage.
Gujarat, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Tamil Nadu last week flagged shortage of coal in power plants. Union Territory of Delhi, where Tata Power sent phone messages to its consumers, also wrote to the Centre over anticipated power crisis scenario.
TELL ME A LITTLE MORE
News agency Reuters on Friday last week reported that more than 50 per cent of 135 coal-fired power plants had stocks of less than three days. These 135 coal-powered electricity generation plants account for 70 per cent of power supply in India.
News agency PTI also cited data from the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) to report that 16 coal power plants had stocks for zero days as on October 7. These power plants have a cumulative capacity of 16,880 MW.
Another 30 plants — with power generation capacity of 37,345 MW — had coal stocks to last one day. Eighteen plants — with 23,450 MW power generation capacity — had coal for two days and 19 plants — with 29,160 MW capacity — had coal for three days.
Nine thermal plants with 7,864MW electricity generating capacity had coal stocks to last four days, six plants — with 6,730MW capacity — had coal stock for five days and 10 plants — with 11,540MW capacity — had coal for six days.
This summed up that India was on the brink of a nationwide electricity crisis.
WHAT DID THE GOVERNMENT SAY?
The coal ministry said, “Any fear of disruption in power supply is entirely misplaced.” The coal available at the power plants is a rolling stock which gets replenished by the supplies from the coal companies on a daily basis, it said.
“The coal stock at power plant end is about 72 lakh tonnes, sufficient for 4 days requirement, and that the Coal India Limited (CIL) end is more than 400 lakh tonnes, which is being supplied to the power plants.”
“The domestic coal-based power generation has grown by nearly 24 per cent in this year (till September 2021) based on a robust supply from the coal companies.”
However, the press statement released by the coal ministry acknowledged a shortage in demand-supply requirements.
“The daily average coal requirement at the power plants is about 18.5 lakh tonnes of coal per day whereas the daily coal supply has been around 17.5 lakh tonnes per day,” it said.
The government said coal dispatches were constrained due to extended monsoon, low coal imports and a rise in power demand.
The government sees a positive sign in the power situation in the country. In its Sunday statement, the government held “steep hike in power demand due to economic recovery” as one of the factors in the current power situation in India.
On October 5, the government said, “The increase in demand is a positive sign; it indicates that the economy is growing. It is also because more than 28 million homes were connected to electricity under the SAUBHAGYA Programme and all these new consumers are buying appliance like fans, coolers, TVs etc.”
It said the demand for power was increasing August, 2021 onwards. In August, 2021, the power consumption registered “an increase of almost 18-20 per cent” over pre-Covid period in August 2019.
IS THE POWER CRISIS UNIQUE TO INDIA?
Many parts of the world are facing acute power crisis. Lebanon slumped into darkness on Friday-Saturday. Power supply resumed in the country after 24 hours on Sunday. China is facing serious power crisis due to low import. It has planned to open 90 coal mines.
Several countries in Europe are facing a similar power crisis due to uncertainty of natural gas supply. BBC last week reported that about 15 lakh households could face power supply problems failing to pay increased electricity bills next year in the UK. Supply of natural gas is uncertain and cost has been increasingly forcing the regulator to hike power tariff.
Globally, power generation and distribution companies are facing existential crisis. In the UK alone, nine such companies have shut operations failing to survive amid rising prices of natural gas.
WHY THIS CRISIS?
Experts have blamed the global power crisis on three factors: transition from traditional to new power generation resources, international relations and rising demand in growing economies.
Concerns over climate change and global warming have forced the governments to make a policy shift towards clean and green energy. Coal is tradition resource to generate power but is held accountable for rising carbon emission. China and India are top two coal producers, consumers and importers.
While Europe has largely shifted to alternative resources but natural gas is the major source for power generation, and Russia is their principal supplier. The main pipeline passes through Ukraine and Poland. Both have strained relationship with Russia impacting the supply of natural gas. Russia wants a direct pipeline through Germany to become operation but big powers including the US are opposed to it — sensing a Russian ‘design’ to deprive rivals Ukraine and Poland of power supply.
Countries such as India and China are growing economies where middle-class bulge continues to push the demand for more power. As the alternative sources of energy are still not developed to meet the demand, the countries are dependent on coal.
But the government’s policy has shifted toward alternative sources for power generation. Incentives are being offered to businesses including those for power generation from non-coal electricity. This means the less than required money is pumping into coal mining and coal-fired power generation. In developing economies, this shift has contributed to the power supply situation of the day.