Achieving 2022 RE Targets Would Have Averted India’s April Power Crisis

The country could have conserved 4.42 mn tonnes of coal

In April 2022, India witnessed acute power shortage due to unavailability of coal supplies, with more than 100 MU (million units) of energy shortage on 8 days over the course of the month.

This forced discoms to enforce load-shedding / rolling blackouts to ration power. The power shortage was due to problems with the evacuation and stockpiling of coal at thermal power plants, combined with a spike in the price of imported coal for coastal plants. March 2022 was also the hottest in 122 years, causing increased power demand for cooling, with impacts on coal stocks at power plants. There was little relief from high temperatures in April.

The power shortage has led to some calls to further augment India’s coal power capacity, while others have pointed out that the crisis was a result of lack of coal supply and not lack of power generation capacity. This analysis looks at the role played by renewable energy during this crisis, and what lessons it reveals for the future.

2022: The country could have averted the April power crisis if progress towards the 175 GW renewable energy goal had been on track, according to new analysis by think tank Climate Risk Horizons.

The power shortage was due to problems with the evacuation and stockpiling of coal at thermal power plants, combined with a spike in the price of imported coal for coastal plants and high prices on the power exchange. March 2022 was also the hottest in 122 years, causing increased power demand for cooling, with impacts on coal stocks at power plants. There was
little relief from high temperatures in April.

In 2016, India set an ambitious goal of reaching 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022, and as of April 2022, it had 95 GW of operating solar and wind power. This implies a target slippage of about 51 GW.

“Our analysis shows that if we had been on track to achieve our RE target, there would have been no power crisis. The additional generation from solar and wind would have erased the energy shortage and would have allowed power plants to conserve their dwindling coal stocks for evening peak periods when solar generation dips. The additional RE generation would have translated into a saving of at least 4.4 million tonnes of coal,” said Abhishek Raj, analyst with Climate Risk Horizons.

The power shortage has led to some calls to further augment India’s coal power and mining capacity, despite the fact that there was no shortage of coal stocks at mines, nor was there a shortage of installed coal power generation capacity. Rather, the crisis was a result of lack of coal supply, due to logistical and cash flow reasons.

“Two things are true: without the massive RE growth since 2016, the power crisis in April would have been much, much worse. At the same time, if we had been on track for 175 GW by the end of the year, there would have been no power crisis at all. Logistical constraints in the coal supply chain are a permanent feature and will certainly recur, as will heat waves; the best safeguard is to diversify our electricity mix. This reinforces the need for the center and state
governments to rapidly scale up their RE deployment and reduce dependence on coal,” said Ashish Fernandes, CEO of Climate Risk Horizons.

Key points:

● India’s solar PV and wind capacity touched 94 GW in April 2022, a nearly three-fold jump from 2016. Absent this rapid growth in RE capacity, the April power crisis would have been significantly worse, with widespread load shedding for extended periods. In April, solar and wind generated 8.8% of India’s total generation, equivalent to consumption of 7.83 million tonnes of coal. With less RE capacity online, the coal supply crisis would have been significantly worse.

● India is not on track to meet its goal of 175GW RE by 2022. If India was on track to achieve this target, it would have an additional 35.6 GW and 16 GW of solar and wind respectively already installed. Generation from this additional capacity would have been sufficient to avert the April power crisis.

● The additional solar PV + wind generation of 6,834 MU over the month of April would have enabled power plants to conserve their coal stocks for evening hours when solar is unavailable. This would have in effect reduced coal requirements by 4.42 million tonnes.

● The generation from additional solar and wind capacity would have been more than the energy shortage by a considerable margin on each day in April.

The writer of this article is Dr. Seema Javed, a known Environmentalist, Journalist and Communications Expert

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