Thermal coal flat-lines in faltering economy, power from non-coal sources continues to grow

Opportunity to fast-track ambitious clean energy transition, reduce air pollution and stimulate rural job growth

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When economies stumble, slackening electricity demand is a very common symptom, and in India’s case, the current rapid decline is quite specific to coal, finds researcher Dr Charles Worringham.

Collectively, power from all non-coal sources grew by about 24,000 gigawatt hour or 8.4% to the end of October 2019 with hydro, solar and nuclear adding substantially to their generation levels and continuing upwards.

Coal however is the exception. While making the largest contribution to extra energy as of late July, it faltered in August and collapsed in September and October.

“Coal has produced about 12,500 gigawatt hour less electricity than at the same time last financial year,” says Dr Worringham. “And less coal has been used for power in the last 12 months than the year before.”

“The scale and speed of coal’s relative decline partly reflects increased hydro, solar and even nuclear generation, but not power plant coal shortages as in previous years. Indeed, power plants are generating less but have higher coal stocks than a year ago.

“Rather, India’s economy appears to be limiting the use of available coal by the power sector.”

Dr Worringham suggests the current coal slump offers India an unusual opportunity.

“While not under pressure from burgeoning electricity demand growth, India could fortify its necessary energy transition plans, reduce the country’s 1.2 million annual air pollution-related deaths, and stimulate urgently needed rural job growth, all while enhancing India’s energy security through greater domestic capacity.

“This could include a revival of large-scale renewable infrastructure investment in preparation for sustained higher growth, while accelerating HVDC Green Corridors and plans for the Flexible Operation of Thermal Power Plants, as well as new projects built on the comprehensive and collaborative Grid Integration studies India has developed.

“As India presses forward with its renewable energy transition, as and when higher economic growth does resume, it will be fueled by substantially cleaner energy than in the past,” says Dr Worringham.


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