World’s Largest Coal Miner To Run Out Of Reserves In 17 Years, Claims Greenpeace

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In a startling revelation, Greenpeace India has claimed that the world’s largest coal miner, and essentially India, could run out of recoverable coal reserves within 17 years. Coal India Limited is the world’s largest coal mining company and enjoys a monopoly in the Indian coal sector.

The Indian government has announced extremely ambitious plans to add coal-based power generation capacity over the next few years. The country plans to add almost 100 GW of coal-fired power plants by 2017. A number of these projects are planned to use the ultra super critical technology which has lower carbon intensity than conventional coal-based power plants.

In 2011, India’s coal demand was 640 million tonnes. This figure is set to increase rapidly as the country plans to add significant capacity over the next few years. Recently, Coal India Limited signed over 150 fuel-supply agreements with new power plants. The company admits that it would not able to provide 100% of the demand of the power plants through its domestic mines and will have to import about 15-20% of the demand from other countries.

According to the recently adopted United Nations Framework Classification for Fossil Fuel and Mineral Resources, Coal India’s recoverable reserves stand at 17.15 billion tonnes; Greenpeace India pegs recoverable reserves of non-coking coal at 15.4 billion tonnes. At the expected rate of production (government intends to meet maximum demand from domestic sources to keep electricity tariffs low), these reserves will be exhausted by within the next 13 years.

Greenpeace India has noted several reasons as to why Coal India would have a tough time increasing its recoverable reserves. Lack of technical know-how to mine at greater depths and slow pace of exploration growth over the last few years are among the reasons mentioned by Greenpeace India. Another major obstacle being faced by the company are environmental clearances. According to media reports, 241 coal mining projects are currently awaiting environmental clearances from either the state governments or the central government.

Coal India has, expectedly, rejected the claims made by Greenpeace India. The company claims to have been adding over 2 billion tonnes of reserves every year and hopes to increase the production to 482 million tonnes in 2013-14.

While this year the electricity demand has been lower than last few years, possibly due to the better than expected monsoon and increased grid strictness on overdrawing electricity following last year’s grid collapse, several power plants in India had been regularly facing a situation of critical or super critical coal reserves. On a number of occasions over the last few years, power plants were left with only few days worth of coal reserves to operate. A number of power plants have to regularly shut operations due to lack of coal, or other various reasons.

The situation on the gas front is even worse. The Ministry of Power has banned any new gas-based power plants till 2016 simply because the country does not have gas reserves to fuel the power plants. A number of private power generating companies are planning to use coal in their gas-based power plants.

This brings renewable energy to the forefront of India’s energy predicament. The wind energy sector is well established in the country and experts expect solar power to become competitive over the next few years, the capacity that India requires to meet the rising demand is truly enormous. India could soon surpass Russia to become the third largest country in terms of electricity consumption. Renewable energy has a long way to go before it can claim a significant share in the country’s energy mix; but it this report by Greenpeace India should be treated as a wakeup call for the policy makers and the industry.

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Mridul Chadha

Mridul currently works as Head-News & Data at Climate Connect Limited, a market research and analytics firm in the renewable energy and carbon markets domain. He earned his Master’s in Technology degree from The Energy & Resources Institute in Renewable Energy Engineering and Management. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering. Mridul has a keen interest in renewable energy sector in India and emerging carbon markets like China and Australia.

Mridul Chadha has 425 posts and counting. See all posts by Mridul Chadha

9 thoughts on “World’s Largest Coal Miner To Run Out Of Reserves In 17 Years, Claims Greenpeace

  • This is crazy if true. They are willing to build another 100GW of coal-fired plants??? They should already plan the winding-down of their coal plants, not building new ones.

    That will have a huge effect on public health and cost them dearly on the social level. Even if the state doesn’t have to pay for health damages resulting from burning coal, (I assume they don’t have state-financed health insurance), social unrest among the poor may cause a lot of damage. Their social system is already close to its limits (see those raping incidents recently), this will just further stress it.

    • Over 300 million people have no electricity in India.

      • Let them own solar.

  • India has solar being installed for $1.55/watt. Solar is already more than competitive with new coal in India.

    Before a new super-critical coal plant could be built solar will be down to $1/watt, China is now installing at that price point.

    India has a strong wind program and is the site of a major turbine manufacturer.

    Coal continues to be a dead man walking….

  • Coal power is on it’s way out for electricity generation. We’ll probably use it for liquid fuels at a lesser scale after that.

    • I’m not convinced.

      We’d have to build the gassification infrastructure. Petroleum infrastructure is in place.

      If there was a huge price on carbon and carbon capture and sequestering could be done at a reasonable price, then maybe. But there isn’t.

      Almost certainly we’re looking at a drop in fuel demand. That’s based on reasonable improvements in EV range and cost, nothing “breakthrough”. Between EVs, more efficient ICEVs, and improved public transportation I think oil demand is likely to drop over the next decade or so. Industry isn’t going to invest immense amounts of money into a declining market.
      Then add in some possible, but not impossible, developments. Algae/duckweed/cellulose liquid fuel develops at something less than “$100/barrel”. We do have a battery breakthrough and get affordable, rapid charging, 200 mile range EVs soon. Big money understands that these things could happen. And that they create major risk for gassification infrastructure investments.

      • Think military applications, not consumer. I’d personally put my money on liquified coal over biofuels, but we’ll see.

        • The military is putting a lot into alternative, biofuels.

          I expect we’ll see a lot of PHEVs in use with the military, especially in forward bases. If they can gen the energy they need with solar for routine patrols they’re going to jump at that rather than haul fuel at $300+ per gallon. Regardless of what the fuel is.

  • China´s coal crisis is that they can dig gigatons of the stuff, but it´s killing them and the climate. India´s coal crisis is that they can´t dig enough of it in the first place.

    Greenpeace have picked a nice soft target here. The Indian power élite is well aware that their coal policy is quite impossible. Coal of India, an inefficient statist behemoth, can´t fuel a major growth in electricity at anything like the very low price Indians expect. The plan, if you can call it that, to mine coal in Mozambique, building 500km (!) of railway first, smacks of desperation.

    India already had a power cut in July that left 680 million pople without electricity for hours. This will get worse. State governments are turning to renewables simply because they can deliver electricity to peasant voters before the next election.

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