UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis | 3 May 2022

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What the article is about?

  • Talks about the concerns associated with the Indian power sector.

Syllabus: GS-III Issues relating to growth and development, power sector and bottlenecks.

Power sector and crisis:

  • Peak shortages in some states have reached double digits.
    • Coal stocks available at thermal plants are at abysmal levels and about 106 plants out of 173 plants have reached a critical stage.
  • Chronology of the crisis:
    • First, with summer approaching before time, power demand has shot up to record levels.
    • The second reason for the rise in power demand is that the economy is recovering, and demand from the industrial sector is going up.
    • All things put together, power demand crossed 207 GW on April 29, which is about 14 per cent higher than what it was a year ago.
    • Experts feel that the peak demand may even touch 215 GW in the coming months.
  • What is important to note is that this coal crisis is not because of any deficit in the supply of coal from domestic sources.
    • Coal dispatches from Coal India during 2021-22 were 23 per cent higher than in the previous year and the corresponding figure for Singareni Collieries (a government-owned-coal mining corporation) is 31 per cent.
  • The fall in coal stock in power stations is because of two main reasons.
    • The first is that due to a rise in the international price of coal on account of the Ukraine crisis, all plants that were importing coal have either stopped generating completely or are generating at much lower levels.
    • The second reason for low coal stocks is the non-availability of rakes with Indian railways for transporting coal.
    • To make matters worse, generation from gas-based plants has also fallen due to high gas prices in the world market.
    • Reservoirs, too, are drying up due to intense heat which will adversely affect hydro generation.

Transportation bottleneck:

  • The railways prefer to transport coal over short distances in order to save on the turn-around time.
    • Consequently, coal stocks in faraway power stations are good enough for only two days of generation or less, whereas for plants nearer to the mines it can go up to nine days also.
  • There is also the issue of availability of tracks since they are being used on a back-to-back basis.
    • In order to transport more rakes for transporting coal, the railways are cancelling passenger trains.
    • About 42 trains have been cancelled for a month involving about 750 trips.
  • It is pretty evident, therefore, that there is a major transport bottleneck.

Way Ahead:

  • Production has to be enhanced so that the replenishment rate is higher than consumption.
  • Unless we do that, the total stock of coal in the country will deplete further and it will no longer be a mere transportation problem as it is now, but a general lack of supply of coal. 

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