Coal Shortage Crisis in India

The Central Electrical Authority of India announced that India is facing a shortage of coal across thermal plants, which might lead to an electrical power crisis. As of the first week of October, thirteen thermal power plants in Maharashtra, three in Punjab, and four in Kerala is shut down due to a lack of coal reserves. Most of the major thermal power plants in different states are running with coal stocks sufficient only for three to four days; this contrasts with the usual reserve stocks that last at least two to three weeks in the past. According to the Central Electricity Authority of India, almost 80% of the country’s coal plants are in the critical or “supercritical” stage, which means that their stocks might decrease drastically in less than five days. According to Aravind Kejariwal, the capital city of Delhi will face a blackout if power stations do not receive more coal. Many states experience power cuts that last hours.

Coal Sector in India

India is the second-largest producer of raw coal after China. It is the most abundant fossil fuel available in India, accounting for almost 55% of India’s energy requirements. Coal originates from decomposed wood. Making coal usually takes centuries, where forests are buried under the earth and timber is decomposed due to the heat from underground and pressure from the earth’s surface.

Coal is usually classified based on carbon content and period. There are three main categories of coal which include anthracite, bituminous and lignite. Anthracite contains 80 to 95% carbon content and emits a blue flame; this is also the best quality coal found in Jammu and Kashmir in small quantities. Bituminous contains 60 to 80% carbon content with low moisture content and high calorific value. Lignite contains 40 to 55% carbon content with high moisture. It is brown and emits smoke when burnt. As of April 2018, India’s coal reserves are estimated to have a cumulative total of 319.02 billion tonnes. Twenty-seven major coal fields mainly exist in the eastern and central states of the country. Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh contain the largest amount of coal reserves in the country.

According to the import policy, coal can be imported freely by consumers based on their commercial needs. India imports nearly 213 million tons of coal, and many companies have coal mines in other countries to ensure a steady supply of coal. Some of the major issues faced by the The coal sector includes land acquisition problems, delays in environment and forest clearances, low productivity, lack of adequate technology, high maintenance costs, etc.

Major Reasons for the Coal Crisis

  1. Rise in demand for power: There is a significant growth in the demand for electricity because the country’s economy is recovering from Covid 19 lockdown. However, many power companies have not considered this, even though it was predicted earlier. Sunil Dahiya, an analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, points out that the current coal crisis is due to improper planning and stocking of coal by the power generators in the country.
  2. Rainfall and floods: The heavy rain and floods in August and September in the areas of coal fields has reduced the production and transportation of coal from coal mines.
  3. Decrease in imports: Due to the global energy crisis, the prices of coal have increased drastically, which resulted in the low import of coal due to financial challenges.

Impact of Coal Crisis

The industries that face severe energy shortages will have to decrease their production, which will delay the reopening of the Indian economy. As coal contributes to almost half of the country’s energy, the power crisis will be huge. The present coal shortages will be used by the government to push domestic coal production. Some state governments are already pressuring for the clearance of new coal mines in protected areas. Further expansion of the coal sector will affect the tribal communities who live in the forests that cover the country’s largest coal reserves.

Steps to Prevent and Control Coal Crisis

The government and State Coal India should closely monitor the available coal stocks and should increase production to meet the demands. India also needs to import more coal despite the high cost in the international market to meet the demands in the country.

To prevent the power shortage, the power sector needs to shift to more renewable power sources like hydropower and solar energy.