Indian Coal Makes Electricity as Wind Farms Sit Idle
Vijay Jayaraj – June 7, 2022
Amidst the clamor surrounding the intensive use of coal in China and India, one may not realize that these nations have some of the world’s largest renewable energy installations.
In fact, I hail from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu which is often compared to Scandinavia for its large number of wind farms. Accounting for 25 percent of the country’s wind capacity, the state has the largest share of such generating assets in a nation of 1.3 billion people.
Yet even Tamil Nadu relies heavily on coal to meet its electricity demands, with power emergencies and blackouts being the order of the day anytime there are shortages of the fuel. It is much the same across the country, where 70 percent of the electricity comes from coal.
The much-touted wind farms are of little help in such emergencies. Yes, they generate electricity, but it is highly insignificant, only 4.6 billion units compared to coal’s 92 billion units. Despite wind accounting for 10 percent of total installed capacity in the country’s power sector, its total contribution to generation is less than three percent. Wind farms simply cannot produce on-demand electricity, and certainly not in the amount needed by large cities.
“Yet again, power cuts have become the norm in Tamil Nadu; there is already a huge impact on people’s lives,” said the former chief minister of the state.
Last month, Tamil Nadu’s chief minister pleaded for more coal as supply was critically low: “The Chief Minister M K Stalin wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, demanding his intervention to ensure the supply of 72,000 (million tonnes) of coal per day.”
Even a small hiccup in the supply of coal results in widespread blackouts across an entire state. This reveals that the wind capacity of the state is an exaggerated asset that cannot deliver when power is needed. The wind farms work well only during optimum wind months, which means they are useless for more than half of the year.
The officials in charge of delivering power to people are aware of this pathetic situation and, hence, continue to invest in fossil fuel energy sources, especially coal.
The state recently approved the construction of an additional 2,640 megawatts of capacity at a 1,600-megawatt coal-fired plant despite opposition from various quarters. A total of 607 hectares were acquired for the installation of stages 2 and 3 at the Super Critical Thermal Power Project at Udangudi. The plant will look to import 30 percent of its coal from Indonesia, South Africa, Australia, and China.
Further, the federal government of India has now decided “to tackle the power crisis by invoking Section 11 of the Electricity Act, mandating all imported coal-based projects to generate power at full capacity.”
Instead of curtailing coal plants, as climate doomsayers demand, India is increasing its coal dependency. With a forecast of severe shortage in the coming months, the federal government is stepping in to import more coal and avoid more blackouts. “Coal India would import coal for blending on government-to-government basis and supply … to thermal power plants of state generators and independent power producers,” the federal Power Ministry said in a May 28 letter.
The federal government has asked coastal plants to import as much coal as possible and promised to provide loans to do so. Electricity demand from coal plants is so high that the state of Tamil Nadu and a few others have allowed plants to increase prices.
Vijay Jayaraj is a Research Associate at the CO2 Coalition, Arlington, Va., and holds a Master’s degree in environmental sciences from the University of East Anglia, England. He resides in Bengaluru, India.
First published here at Human Events on June 6, 2022.