Billions of Indians use Coal to Cope with Heat Waves

by Vijay Jayaraj

India’s unconstrained use of coal for electricity generation is helping 1.4 billion people adapt to intense heat waves that registered 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) on thermometers. However, I’ve not seen a single story from the mainstream media highlighting why coal is essential to the comfort – and even survival – of people in my country.

Instead, reporters bemoan how India’s use of “dirty” coal in the midst of oppressive heat frustrates the country’s “decarbonization”. It cannot be clearer! Climate elites want restriction of fossil fuel use irrespective of its effect on people. Death and disease for billions living in poverty is not too high a price for achieving climate nirvana.

Indians Use Electricity to Cool

India recently became the world’s most populous nation, overtaking China for that distinction. And the percentage of Indians living in energy poverty remains much higher than that of the Chinese. Even slight disruptions to energy supply could have significant negative consequences on a population already socio-economically weak.

Being a tropical country, summer extremes are very common in India. With the advent of modern cities and rapid industrialization, the Urban Heat Island effect in cities have contributed to an artificial increase in temperatures as well. Combined, these factors make summer temperatures intense.

Maintaining hydration and other common-sense steps are important, but not enough. Air conditioning or ventilation from windows aided by electric-driven fans is crucial for people to avoid heat stroke and other morbidities associated with extreme temperatures. However, only 24 percent of Indian households have air conditioners. Others use fans mounted on tables or in ceilings. The benefits of fans were documented in a Lancet article, but they are of no use without reliable electricity.

Frequent blackouts are reported even in some of the most advanced Indian cities. An electricity shortage of 22.53 million kilowatt-hours was reported on April 17 by the National Load Dispatch Centre. Such occurrences exact a huge toll on people who rely on cooling devices during heat waves.

Living in India, I have encountered such hot and humid summer afternoons during prolonged – and unannounced – power blackouts. Only recently did I buy a battery for backup power – an asset that a majority of India’s billions cannot afford. Emergency power equipment for households is even fairly rare in wealthier countries, but they have much more reliable electricity supply systems.

Coal to the Rescue

To better ensure power supplies, India has instituted measures to bolster fuel stocks at coal plants to forestall shortages. This year, both trains and ships have been used to transport coal in the country.

According to coal ministry data, India’s coal production increased nearly 15 percent year-on-year to 893 million metric tons in the fiscal year ending March 31 and is projected to increase further in the coming year. With more heat waves predicted in the coming months and given the inevitable summer extremes of UHI-impacted cities in the coming years, coal production and use are bound to increase further.

“India will be a coal-surplus country in the next two years and will start exporting coal in 2025-26,” said India Coal Minister Pralhad Joshi.

With more than 70 percent of electricity coming from coal, India’s decision to resist energy-restrictive climate policies is proving to be a lifesaving move.

The Indian strategic think tank NITI Ayog has called for the government to ensure “maximum production of coal and work towards its abundant availability in the market,” reports the Observer Resarch Foundation. “The government is optimistic that an increase in domestic production of coal will bring faster economic development to the ‘aspiring regions’ of the country.”

Nevertheless, most mainstream media – obsessed with a fabricated climate emergency – treat the use of coal as a problem, not as a victory over death and disease.

This commentary was first published at BizPac Review, May 4, 2023, and can be accessed here.

Vijay Jayaraj is a Research Associate at the CO2 Coalition, Arlington, Virginia. He holds a master’s degree in environmental sciences from the University of East Anglia, UK and resides in India.

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