Peeping into the Crisis

At this moment, the supply of coal to our Thermal Power Plants (TPPs) has been drastically affected. However, it is a combined effect of several factors, out of which the unexpected rise of mercury was not at all controllable. The union government is trying its best to mitigate he crisis… - P. K. Chatterjee (PK)

Although the mid-May is well known as the hottest season in Northern India and for the western and southern regions it is April to beginning of May, this year (2022) has already broken several past records as far as the day temperatures at different parts of India are concerned. On April 28, Ahmedabad recorded 44.40C maximum temperature, on the very next day Gwalior witnessed 45.20C maximum temperature, both are the highest in the last 10 years.

Obviously, the situation has led to the unprecedented need for cooling, unexpectedly heightened need of irrigation et al., which have ultimately increased the demand of electricity when the industries are starting their full-fledged operations after the COVID-infested slow down. However, because of the shortage of coal, most of our thermal power plants are now running at low capacity and the total supply of power is around 70% of the total peak demand. This is causing around 2 to 8 hrs., of power cuts at different parts of our country.

According to the Union Government sources, the maximum all India power demand met is 201.066 GW at 14:51 hours on April 26. It has surpassed last year’s maximum demand met of 200.539 GW, which occurred on 7th July 2021. The rising power demand reflects the economic growth in the country. In the month of March this year, the growth in energy demand has been around 8.9%. Further, the demand is expected to reach about 215-220 GW in months of May-June. The Union Government and other stakeholders are working together to ensure unhindered power supply and efforts at all fronts are being made and measures are being taken for better utilisation of various resources.

A few examples of shortage of coal from different states in April 2022

Uttar Pradesh: As of April 25, 11 out of 13 coal fired power plants have reached critical coal stock level (i.e. less than 25% of normative coal stock.)

Rajasthan: As of April 18, all the 7 thermal power plants of the state have reached critical coal stock level.

Haryana: As per the available report on April 18, Yamuna Nagar TPP and Panipat TPP had coal stocks respectively for 8 days and 7 days.

Punjab: As per the available report on April 18, 2 units of GVK Goindwal Sahib TPP were temporarily shut down. On the same day, Guru Gobind Singh TPP was left with a stock for only 8.6 days and Guru Hargobind TPP was left with a stock for only 6.3 days.

A few major causes behind the power demand-supply gap

First of all our power demand has increased from 106.6 BU per month in 2019 to 132 BU per month in 2022. Secondly, the crisis is continuing from the previous year 2021. In last October, the stock of coal in many TPPs stood at a level for only 4 days. It was due to delay in shipment. Also, because of heavy rainfall at different coal fields, the coal extraction job was affected badly. Thirdly, because of the Russia-Ukraine war, many Captive Power Plants (CPPs), which earlier depended on the imported coal, are now looking at the domestic supply for their operation. Last but not the least reason is the decision of the Central Government that led to 43.6% reduction in power generation from imported coal. It added an extra demand of 17.4 MT of domestic coal.

Steps taken by the Union Government to improve coal supply to TPPs

According to the sources, “In line with various measures being taken in view of increasing power demand, Power Ministry has amended the methodology for use of coal (allocated to states) by Private Power generating stations (IPPs). Larger visibility has been given to the power plants by extending the period of supply of coal from 1 year to 3 years. The power ministry has further made amendments in the timeline of bidding process, which has been reduced from 67 days to 37 days. The measures have been taken for ensuring more efficient utilisation of domestic coal.

The union government has taken these measures in order to optimally utilise the railway infrastructure for maximum transportation of coal to the power plants. According to the MoP, this would enable states to optimally utilize their linkage coal in the plants nearer to the mines – as it would be easier to transmit electricity instead of transporting coal to far off states.

Power Minister R.K. Singh and Union Minister for Railways Ashwini Vaishnaw held a meeting recently to discuss short term and long term strategies for dealing with increasing power demand.

Power Secretary Alok Kumar, Coal Secretary A.K. Jain and senior officials from Ministry of Power, Coal and Ministry of Railways were also present there. Representatives from Coal and Power PSUs and states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra joined the same virtually.

Singh urged all stakeholders at the centre and state level to work hand in hand for unhindered power supply. He urged the Power GENCOs to own freight rakes under the scheme of Ministry of Railways to deal with logistic constraints in coal supply. Issues discussed included increasing operational efficiency for loading and unloading of coal, increasing percentage of rakes allotment for power sector, and other logistics issues.

Indian Rail is also trying now to provide their best support to goods trains carrying coal. The railways are now giving preference to coal carrying rakes over passenger trains wherever required. They are also keeping track of the mechanical condition of these rakes.

With a view to increasing the coal supply to TPPs, Break Power Certificates (BPC) of rakes has been extended. Earlier the rakes used to be sent to garage after completion of every 7,500 km, but now the same is being done after running 10,000 km.

Concluding statement

The harsh climate change has created an unexpected pressure on the Indian power sector. The MoP has been actively trying to remedy the crisis of shortage of coal in TPPs, however, as the challenge is quite big, it will take some time.

If monsoon comes in time, intensity of the challenge will partially reduce, however, the power, coal and railway ministries will have to more meticulously pursue the matter of supplying coal to the existing TPPs.

Running any plant at low capacity or shutting down the same for coal supply shortage is an economic loss for the nation. During ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’, we must ensure this aspect.

Leave a Reply