Could India face blackout crisis on coal shortages?

October 13, 2021 (MLN): India, the world’s second-largest coal consumer, has been facing crippling power supply shortages since October as power generators have been unable to meet renewed demand as its economy revived from the second wave of pandemic driven recession.

Coal shortages are affecting power plants in India, with many states, including Delhi, raising concerns over the possible “blackout crisis”. The country's power crisis is due to a mismatch between rapidly growing demand and lagging supply, which has also led to power shortages in China and rising gas prices in most parts of Europe and Asia.

Federal grid operator data shows that more than half of India's 135 coal-fired power plants, which supply about 70 percent of India's electricity, suggesting state-run coal supplies are no longer enough, a report by Reuters said.

Coal stocks are rated critically low at 116 out of 135 generating plants (86%) across the country and those power plants account for 142 GW of generating capacity out of a total of 165 GW (86%).

The crisis has been raging for weeks, first in the form of slides in coal stocks then in grid frequency deterioration, and now clearly in blackouts in some parts of the country.

On October 7, the worst day of power shortage ever, the nationwide shortage topped at 11.7 gigawatts and the day’s total unmet electricity demand hit 114 million kilowatt-hours, which is about 3% of the total demand.

Most of the thermal power generators that use coal as a fuel have been impotent to meet customer demand and the generation plan. As a result, thermal power generation has now fallen 21.7 TWh (3.6%) behind plan, from a deficit of 9.7 TWh (-2.0%) at the end of August, wrote John Kemp, Energy Analyst in Reuters.

It is worth mentioning that cumulative power production since the start of April has fallen 21.5 Terawatt-hours (-2.9%) behind the plan, worsening from a deficit of 11.6 TWh (-2.0%) at the end of August, he added.

The deficit in coal-fired production has become so huge that it can no longer be met by planned production from nuclear and hydro-sources.

Coal-fired power plants are facing increasing difficulties securing enough fuel to meet the planned generation due to a combination of fuel shortages and transportation problems.

The government of India on Tuesday allowed power producers to expedite imports of coal to use for up to 10% of blends with the domestic grade to meet increased power demand, Reuters said.

Nevertheless, this move could push up already high global coal prices.

The report highlighted that power producers report coal shortages are currently responsible for forced outages or some loss of production at 60 generating units across the country (Daily maintenance report, CEA, Oct. 11).

This looming power crisis will fade away if the fuel reserves of the country improve and more coal-fired plants are able to return to full production.

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Posted on: 2021-10-13T14:14:21+05:00