India braces for scorching summer: Record power demand puts coal in spotlight 


India shivers with anticipation as another scorching summer approaches. The power sector is bracing for an unprecedented surge in electricity demand, projected to reach a sizzling peak of 260 gigawatts (GW). This isn’t just about numbers; it reflects a nation experiencing rapid economic growth while grappling with an unyielding dependence on coal power. 

Last year, India’s peak power demand skyrocketed by 13%, hitting a historic high of 243 GW. This year, the stakes are even higher, with forecasts predicting peaks between 250 GW and 260 GW (confirmed by the Ministry of Power and Central Electricity Authority). Notably, the surge isn’t limited to daylight hours. India’s evenings are particularly tense, with a projected demand of 235 GW in June – a time when solar power retreats, forcing the grid to heavily rely on thermal power plants. 

With temperatures expected to soar beyond 40 degrees Celsius, the spotlight turns to India’s coal-fired power stations, which comprise a hefty 218 GW of the total energy capacity. These facilities are currently bolstered by the highest coal stockpiles seen in four years, a strategic move by the government to avert summer blackouts. 

To meet the heightened demand, approximately 300 railway wagons are dispatched daily – a 10% increase from the previous year – to keep coal supplies flowing. Additionally, increased coal imports are ensuring domestic reserves are more than sufficient for the upcoming power generation surge. 

However, the government isn’t solely relying on coal. Gas and oil-fired power stations, typically side-lined due to economic disadvantages, are now instructed to stand by as potential gap fillers. This directive extends even to plants relying on imported fuels. Furthermore, maintenance schedules for over 8 GW of coal-fired capacity are being deferred to maintain a steady power supply during the critical summer months.  

Plans are underway to revive approximately 5 GW of dormant thermal power capacity, underlining India’s determination to meet its power needs uninterrupted. Even surplus power from captive plants is mandated to be sold on power exchanges, ensuring every available watt contributes to meeting the colossal energy demand. 

 Then again, in a bid to enhance grid stability and efficiency, all coal-based power generators are now mandated to maintain a uniform technical minimum loading of 55% of unit capacity. This standardisation is intended to ensure the grid’s safety and reliability under the fluctuating conditions of high demand. Furthermore, the government is leveraging every available resource, directing that surplus power from captive generating stations be sold on power exchanges. This ensures that no available energy is wasted, and all potential power contributes to meeting the peak demands. 

While India’s renewable energy footprint continues to expand, with solar power playing a significant role, coal remains a gritty reality. This dual strategy of ramping up renewable energy while bolstering coal power readiness illustrates India’s pragmatic approach to navigating the complexities of a transitional energy landscape. 

This summer, India’s energy landscape is a dynamic tableau of old and new, reflecting the nation’s ongoing journey from traditional coal-based power to a more diversified and sustainable energy portfolio. The robust measures in place reflect a pragmatic yet forward-thinking approach to energy management, ensuring India not only meets its current demands but does so while paving the way for a more sustainable and reliable energy future. As the turbines turn and coal burns, India’s power grid stands resilient, a testament to a nation powering through change and ready to face the future, one kilowatt at a time. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.

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