NEW DELHI (AP) – An energy crisis threatens India as coal supplies fall dangerously low, adding to the challenges of recovering Asia’s third-largest economy after being rocked by the pandemic.
The supply of the majority of coal-fired power plants in India has fallen to a few days of stock.
Federal Energy Minister RK Singh told Indian Express this week that he was preparing to “try five to six months.”
“I can’t say I’m safe… With less than three days of stock, you can’t be safe,” Singh said.
The shortages have fueled fears of potential blackouts in parts of India, where 70% of electricity is produced from coal. Experts say the crisis could disrupt renewed efforts to speed up manufacturing.
Power cuts and shortages over the years have eased in large cities, but are quite common in some small towns.
Of India’s 135 coal-fired power plants, 108 were facing extremely low inventories, of which 28 were only a day’s supply, according to Energy Ministry data released Wednesday, the most recent available.
On average, power station coal supplies had fallen to about four days of stock this weekend, the ministry said in a statement. That’s a sharp 13-day drop in August.
Energy use in August jumped nearly 20% from the same month in 2019, before the pandemic hit, the energy ministry said.
“No one expected economic growth to pick up like this and demand for energy to rise so rapidly,” said Vibhuti Garg, energy economist at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
Supply shortages were compounded by flooding of mines and other disruptions caused by unusually heavy rains, Garg said.
India mainly depends on locally mined coal. With global coal prices at an all time high, increasing imports is not an option, experts said.
The government asked the state-owned Coal India Ltd. to increase its production.
Coal prices in Indonesia, one of India’s suppliers, have swelled to nearly $ 162 a tonne this month from $ 86.68 in April, boosted by strong demand in China, where recent power cuts have forced factories to close and left some households in the dark.
“With the current prices, it is difficult for India to rely on external sources for coal, as it is about two or three times more than what we are paying domestically right now,” said Swati DSouza, head of research at the National Foundation for India.
With the receding monsoon rains, deliveries of coal have resumed and are expected to increase further, according to the Energy Ministry. An official team is monitoring the situation and following up with Coal India Ltd. and railways to improve supplies, the ministry said.
But the crisis has highlighted India’s need to develop more renewable energy resources as demand is likely to continue to rise.
This should serve as a “turning point for India,” where there is vast potential for renewable energy to help offset such disruptions, said Sunil Dahiya, an analyst at the Energy and Clean Air Research Center.
“The situation shouldn’t be used to push for more coal – it’s not the crisis. The solution in the future is to move away from coal and other fossil fuels, ”he said.
AP science writer Victoria Milko contributed from Jakarta, Indonesia.