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94% Of India’s Planned Coal Capacity Will Be Lying Idle

Despite having just ratified the Paris climate agreement, India is nevertheless pushing on with plans to build over 300 GW of new coal capacity by 2030 in a misguided attempt to meet the electricity needs of approximately 300 million people currently with no access to electricity in the country.

To be clear, the “misguided attempt” is not to suggest the millions of Indians currently without electricity don’t need said electricity, but rather that recent analysis has suggested that the current plans for mass-coal generation capacity expansion are unnecessary, and that in fact, might not be needed until 2022 — if at all.

Coal_mine_in_Dhanbad,_IndiaAccording to new research from Greenpeace’s Energy Desk, India’s Government is currently intending to increase its coal generating capacity by 300 GW by 2030, with approximately 65 GW of new coal capacity already under construction, and another 178 GW of coal projects already in the permitting pipeline.

However, recent assessment made by the country’s Power Ministry for reviewing the National Electricity Policy revealed that India does not need to build any new power plants for at least the next three years.

This was followed up by an independent analysis by Greenpeace’s Energy Desk, which concluded that 94% of the planned new coal capacity will be laying idle in 2022 due to an unplanned overcapacity. In fact, this would suggest that this state of affairs might last long past 2022.

Further, India’s coal plant capacity factors are running at 64%, which means that India’s existing fleet of coal plants are sitting idle around a third of the time.

India power demand vs generation (via Greenpeace’s Energy Desk)
2012 power demand 2016 power generation (average PLF) Estimated 2022 power demand (@6.7% growth rate) Annual power savings due to efficiency measures in 2020 Estimated 2022 power demand including AT& C losses @15% Potential power generation in 2022 (Average PLF) (excluding proposed coal capacity)
776 TWh 1349.6 TWh 1486 TWh 191 TWh 1489.25 TWh 1835.72 TWh

Of course, if even a fraction of the current 178 GW currently sitting in the pre-construction pipeline is also brought online, the situation will only deteriorate further, with even more coal plants sitting idly by. This might not sound like a problem — if the coal plant is idle, then it’s not generating emissions — but the expense will already have come out of an already-tight financial situation.

Add to this the lack of infrastructure necessary to bring coal-generated electricity to the rural millions currently in need of electricity, and India’s Government finds itself in even hotter water. This gets worse when you realize that numerous demonstrations in India, and around the world, have shown that decentralized renewable energy working in tandem with micro-grids offers a more cost-effective option for bringing electricity to those who need it. In a recent Tweet, India’s Energy Minister Piyush Goyal claimed that “Clean solar power is now cheaper than thermal in India.”

Hopefully, international and home-grown pressure can help the Indian Government realize the current and future state of affairs. Fixing the lack of electricity to so many, while also addressing the looming overcapacity problem will take time, but both can be solved with stricter energy policy and a greater effort transitioning to a renewable energy grid.

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