Blackouts across large swathes of north and west India look set to worsen with several power plants shutting down due to a crippling coal shortage even as a deficient monsoon drives up power demand.
Of the country’s 100 thermal power stations, 56 have less than seven days of coal stocks, including 27 with supplies to last under four days, government data showed Wednesday.
Long outages in the last few days have hurt operations in tens of corporate towers in Mumbai and adjoining areas while the national capital’s suburbs in Gurgaon, Noida and Faridabad have also been left in the dark.
Regular blackouts have led to street protests in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Bihar.
A patchy monsoon has kept water levels in reservoirs low, impacting hydro power generation.
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This, in turn, has put a greater burden on power generation by thermal plants that are already facing coal shortages. Adding to the problem is a surge in demand. “This year, power demand has gone up 29%,” said Ashok Khurana, who heads an association of private power producers.
India’s largest power producer, NTPC, is running its plants at over 80% capacity compared to an average of 62% last year, leading to higher demand for coal. “If the country needs power, we have to increase generation and use whatever stock is available,” NTPC chairman Arup Roy Choudhury said.
This sharp jump in plant capacity in the last two months has resulted in the coal shortages. “Companies did not anticipate this extra demand... orders for imported coal were based on last year’s demand,” Khurana said.
The government acknowledged that inadequate coal supplies had worsened India’s energy woes this summer.
“There are issues but we are looking into it,” power minister Piyush Goyal told HT. “To bridge the shortfall and avoid shortages, we had to step up thermal generation to make up for the loss of hydro power generation. This has also led to higher demand for coal.”
“Dark office in Mumbai. Lights out in the whole area. The coal crisis is beginning to literally show its dark side. A threat to the India story,” tweeted Anand Mahindra, chairman and managing director, Mahindra Group.
Authorities are also monitoring supply from the grids to power-deficit states such as UP and Haryana to prevent a collapse similar to the one in August 2012, which had left 600 million across north and east India powerless for nearly 24 hours.
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“Generation availability in the western grid is severely affected on account of coal shortages reported by state, central and private power stations,” an official communication said.
The crisis is probably the worst in UP, which has a daily peak hour shortfall of up to 3,500MW. Several towns here are blacked out for 8-10 hours a day.
In Punjab, long touted by its government as a power-surplus state, the peak deficit stood at 1,500-2,000MW, forcing farmers to use diesel-powered generators that add to costs. “Due to the power shortage, input cost of paddy has increased by R3,000 per acre,” said Satnam Singh Behru, a farmer leader.
The crisis has been exacerbated by at least two large producers, Tata Power and Adani Power, cutting back on their supplies to Punjab and Maharashtra, not only because of falling coal stocks but also over disputes related to settling dues.
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(Inputs from state bureaux)