An unusually early and brutal heat wave is scorching parts of India, with acute power shortages affecting millions as electricity demand reaches record levels.
Coal supplies to many thermal power plants are becoming dangerously low, causing daily power outages in many states. The shortage is examining India’s long-standing reliance on coal, which produces 70 percent of the country’s electricity.
According to the International Energy Agency, this situation highlights India’s urgent need to diversify its energy sources, as the demand for electricity is expected to grow more than anywhere else in the world over the next 20 years, as the densely populated country develops. Is.
Shortfalls hit parts of the country as extremely high temperatures are prompting officials to close schools, vast landfills are on fire and a calm spring as shriveled crops turned into unbearable heat.
The India Meteorological Department said India recorded its warmest March since 1901, and the average April temperatures in the country’s northern and central regions were the highest in 122 years. Temperatures touched 45 degrees Celsius in 10 cities last week, though cloudy weather and rain may bring some respite soon.
Friederick Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College London, said climate change is making severe temperatures hotter and more frequent, with heat waves likely to hit once every four years instead of every five decades. As a result, India urgently needs to prepare for a record increase in electricity consumption.
The current power cuts are hurting economic activity, which resumed after the pandemic stopped, and could disrupt essential services such as hospitals, experts have warned. There is a blackout for seven hours in many states including Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.
shortage of coal
The railway ministry on Friday canceled over 750 passenger train services to allow more freight trains to carry coal from mines to power plants.
According to data from the Central Electricity Authority, 94 of India’s 165 coal plants are in short supply, while eight are not operational as of Sunday. This means that the shares have fallen below 25 per cent of the normal level.
Government regulations mandate that power plants maintain coal reserves for 24 days, but many do not do so regularly, said Vibhuti Garg, an energy economist at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
Much of India had a cold spring this year before temperatures rose rapidly and dramatically.
“Then suddenly the demand started picking up and the inventory started declining faster than expected,” Garg said. “And it kind of becomes a panic situation that they’re going to run out of coal very soon.”
But the power shortage is a result of coal shortages more than insufficient forecasting of demand and plans for timely transportation, experts said.
“We don’t have enough resources to make a proper forecast. The increase in demand shouldn’t have come as a surprise,” Garg said.
Sunil Dahiya, an analyst at the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air, said “there is enough coal, but a lack of anticipation and planning” created problems. “It could have been avoided.”
Garg said some of the shortfall could have been met with imported coal as well. But global prices have risen since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, reaching US$400 a tonne in March, putting it out of reach of perennial cash-strapped power distribution companies.
Analysts expect demand to decline in the coming weeks, especially if the heat subsides, but likely to pick up again in July and August, driven by rising humidity and the planting season in some Indian states. It is also the start of the monsoon, when heavy rains can flood coal mines and disrupt both mining and supplies.
A similar energy crisis occurred last October after unusually heavy rains that flooded several mines.
Experts say that while the evacuation of goods trains to transport coal is likely to ease the situation and bring some relief, it is not a long-term solution.
With climate change increasing heat waves, energy shortages will become more regular and demand will increase further. But the answer is not to open new mines or add more coal to India’s energy mix, as this will increase greenhouse gases that in turn trap more heat, experts said.
“We need to aggressively focus on promoting renewable energy and making it more reliable. Otherwise, the same issues will keep happening, because we are heavily dependent on this one source of fuel,” Dahiya said.