After years of India’s neglect of coal and hydropower, the threat of power outages is on the rise

India’s electricity availability during “non-solar hours” this April is 1.7% below peak demand. (File)


India is at high risk of blackouts at night this summer and in the coming years, as delays in adding new coal-fired and hydropower plants could limit the country’s ability to meet growing electricity demand in the absence of solar power.

A rapid ramp-up of solar power plants has helped India avoid supply gaps during the day, but a shortage of coal-fired and hydropower power threatens to expose millions to massive blackouts at night, according to government figures and internal documents reviewed by Reuters.

India’s electricity availability during “non-solar hours” this April is expected to be 1.7% below peak demand – a measure of the maximum need for electricity at any one time, internal records from the federal grid regulator reviewed by Reuters showed.

April’s overnight peak demand is expected to reach 217 gigawatts (GW), up 6.4% from the overnight peak recorded in April last year.

“The situation is a bit stressful,” Grid Controller of India Ltd (Grid-India) said in a February 3 note.

While Indians looking to beat the scorching heat this summer need steady power for their air conditioners, the threat of overnight shutdowns threatens round-the-clock industries, including auto, electronics, steel and fertilizer plants.

“If the power goes out for even a minute, the paper pulp will jam, disrupting the delicate process and costing hundreds of thousands of rupees,” said PG Mukundan Nair, former head of the Indian paper industry body. paper manufacturing for about thirty years.

“Even the smallest interruption in power supply creates stress,” said PG Mukundan Nair.

Power shortages this summer could be worse than expected, as Grid-India’s shortage forecasts came weeks before the India Meteorological Department predicted a scorching March-May heatwave.

Emergency steps

India’s federal power secretary, Alok Kumar, downplayed concerns, saying the government had taken “all measures” to avoid blackouts.

“We are making the capacity available to all states at competitive rates,” Kumar told Reuters.

Following the Grid-India report, the government has recommended maintenance of some coal-fired power plants and provided additional gas power to prevent outages, another senior government official said.

According to Grid-India’s February note, 189.2 GW of coal-fired capacity is expected to be available this April. That would be more than 11% higher than last year, according to Reuters calculations based on Grid-India data.

Coal, nuclear and gas power together are expected to meet about 83% of peak nighttime demand.

Hydropower will be important not only to meet much of the remaining supply, but also as a flexible generator, as coal-fired plants cannot be ramped up or down quickly to deal with demand variability.

However, Grid-India expects peak water availability in April this year to be 18% lower than a year ago, when favorable weather conditions boosted production.

Imported coal-fired power plants should increase output to 55% of total capacity from 21% in February, while domestic coal-fired units should increase to 75% of capacity from 69% in February. Gandhi, Research Director, Market Intelligence and Analytics, CRISIL.

“The burden of increasing supply will definitely be borne by coal and gas,” Gandhi said, adding that achieving it would be a “tall order”.


The risk of a night break is dramatically different from that of the day. In line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pledge to cap carbon emissions under the Paris climate accord, daytime supply has strengthened with solar capacity nearly quadrupling over the past five years.

As of last April, mid-day solar had increased the share of renewables to 18% of India’s generation.

The strain comes after sunset, as coal-fired capacity has grown just 9% over the past five years.

Between midnight and April last year, competition for electricity was intense, with buyers bidding for five times more power than sellers, according to a Reuters analysis of data from the country’s most liquid electricity trading platform, the Power Exchange of India.

Widening supply and demand fault lines point to the need to accelerate the addition of coal power to avoid outages over the next few years.

Construction of 26 coal-fired plants with a capacity of 16.8 GW has been delayed by more than a year, with some plants delayed by more than 10 years, Central Electricity Authority data show.

Power plant officials say projects under construction have been stalled by local protests over environmental concerns, legal issues over land acquisition compensation and the availability of labor and equipment.

The addition of hydro and nuclear power faces tougher hurdles, as they are hampered by a lack of foreign investment and opposition from critics over safety and environmental concerns, straining electricity supplies.

(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published on a syndicated channel.)

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