India could be staring at another power crisis like the last year due to inadequate stocking of coal before monsoon and inefficient distribution system, despite adequate coal mining. A total of 19 days of coal is left at non-pithead and pithead power stations, and the coal stock at power stations is reducing since February 2022, the latest note by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), an independent organisation working for clean air and clean energy, shows.

Current coal stocks at power plants stand at 13.5 million tonnes (MT) at pithead power stations and 20.7 MT at all power stations across the country, the data shows.

"As of May 2022, non-pithead power stations have only six days of coal left, against the stipulated 20-26 days by the ministry of power," the CREA note says, adding that the pithead power stations, too, have coal stock enough for 13 days, note titled ‘Failure to load: India's power crisis is a coal management crisis’ says.

While non-pithead power stations depend on long-distance transport and imported coal for their needs, pithead stations are installed near a coal mine and have their captive transportation systems from mines directly.

“If coal stocks are not replenished to adequate levels before this year's monsoon, the country might be heading towards yet another power crisis in July-August 2022,” the report says.

The country had faced a similar power crisis just seven months back in October 2021. At that time, power stations were down to just 8 MT of coal, sufficient for four days of operation. The situation doesn't seem to have improved since then. 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, says the report.

The timing is crucial as the monsoon floods coal mines, hampering their production and transport to power stations.

As the economy started to reopen fully amid Covid in June 2021, the coal stock at non-pithead power stations was 17.6 MT. However, hot and humid summers added to the demand, and power stations were not able to keep up with their stipulated stock requirements. In July-August 2021, coal stocks were reduced to just 5.5 MT at non-pithead power stations, enough to last the country just four days.

"Similar to last year, a lower pre-monsoon coal stock at power stations indicates the possibility of another power crisis in July-August 2022," the report flags.

Coal availability and dispatch

India's energy requirement for March 2022, as forecasted by the CEA in its LGBR (Load Generation Balance Report) for 2022-23, was 1,23,713 million units (MUs). However, the actual consumption was 1,29,187 MUs, 4% higher than the estimated demand. Similarly, in April, the predicted requirement was 1,26,283 MUs, while the actual consumption was 1,34,701 MUs. "This shows a severe underestimation of the demand and that the regulators did not account for the extra demand during summers," says the report.

According to the data from Power System Operator Corporation Ltd (POSOCO), the maximum power demand met on May 23 was 178.20 GW. The Central Electricity Authority of India (CEA) predicts an even more significant peak demand in August 2022 at 214 GW. In addition, the average energy demand could also increase to more than what it is in May to 1,33,426 MUs, the report adds.

These trends show that thermal power stations were not adequately stocked despite adequate coal mining. India's coal production was 777.26 MT in FY22 against 716.08 MT in FY21, an increase of 8.54% Year on Year (YoY), recording the highest ever production in India's coal history.

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