Lower pre-monsoon coal stock at thermal power plants suggests India heading towards another power crisis

India’s current power crisis is unlikely to be resolved soon with the onset of the southwest monsoon will further hamper mining and transportation of coal from mines to power stations, independent research organisation CREA has said.

“The current coal stock stands at 13.5 million tonnes at pithead power stations and 20.7 MT cumulatively at all power plants across the country. At the start of May 2022, non-pithead power stations have only six days of coal left, against the stipulated 20-26 days,” it said.

“On the other hand, pithead power stations have coal stock enough for 13 days of coal stock. While the former are power stations that depend on long-distance transport and imported coal for their coal needs, the latter have their captive transportation systems from the mines directly,” Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air’s (CREA) said in its latest report titled ‘Failure to load: India’s power crisis is a coal management crisis’..

“The total stock of non-pithead power stations fell to as low as 13.6mt on May 17, 2022, down from the opening stock of the month at 14.7 mt. This amount is sufficient to power the country for only seven days. The problem of power shortage, however, is not coal production but distribution and official apathy. India produced 777.26 million tonnes of coal in the financial year 2022, an 8.5% increase from the previous year,” it said.

“India’s coal production this year was the highest in its history and ironically, millions of people are left vulnerable to power cuts amid severe heatwaves and other vagaries of Indian weather,” said Sunil Dahiya, an analyst with the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).

In June 2021, pre-monsoon coal stock was 17.6  mt which was reduced to 5.5 mt in July-August at non-pithead power stations, only enough to last the country just four days and led to the power crisis last year. Like last year, a lower pre-monsoon coal stock at power stations indicates the possibility of another power crisis in July-August 2022.

“Plant operators and regulators had three months to prepare and avoid a crunch. Officials also know very well that monsoons will impact mining and transport. Yet,  no preemptive action was taken to resolve this crisis. It is also a reflection of the coal sector’s failure. After a century of operation, coal has not only polluted our environment and caused a major public health crisis to vulnerable communities; the sector is struggling to power the country,” Dahiya said.

“The current situation is not something that started in the recent past… Coal stock at power stations has been reducing consistently since May 2020, barring a few months in between.

“The primary reason for the power crisis last year was the inaction of power plant operators to stock adequate coal before the onset of the southwest monsoon. The timing is crucial as the monsoon floods coal mines, hampering their production and transport to power stations,” the report stated.

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