“Nearly 50 percent of the states in India will experience surplus power …. [This] is a significant leap for a country that has been reeling under an energy crisis, and where 280 million people don’t have access to electricity at all.
What has brought about this transformation? Not surprisingly, it is the country’s energy backbone—coal.”
India is a big player in the global energy market. Along with China, the country’s energy policy came under heavy scrutiny at the Climate Summit in Paris last year. The climate change obsessed West wants to strike a deal with the two giants from Asia for conversion from fossil fuel to renewables.
But the pressure from the West is almost laughable compared to the benefits of fossil fuels. For the first time in its history, the Indian government announced that the country will not face an energy deficit in the year 2016–2017.
Energy security has been a big problem in India. Imagine closing down your business, having no electricity to run your shop, or sleeping at 30°C (80°F) without a fan or an air conditioner. In addition to that, imagine having no running water in your tap because you have no electricity to pump water into the overhead tanks for household use. This was daily life for a billion people over the past decade.
The impact was also very severe on local industries—destroying thousands of them in the past decade. In my district, the energy crisis during the years 2011–2014 severely impacted the small-scale and medium-scale industries, resulting in a financial crisis for the state. The industrial units that are functional today still reel from the huge debts incurred from the period during which they were non-functional.
Uninterrupted electricity is taken for granted as an essential service in the West. The lack of this service has been jeopardizing the life of the common person in India for years.
But the recent forecast shows a power surplus beginning June 2016. The data used is based on the gap between the demand raised and the demand met. More electricity will be generated than required, thereby creating a surplus.
Nearly 50 percent of the states in India will experience surplus power. While the southern region will have the maximum surplus, the eastern region will experience the maximum shortage. Although the surplus is going to be unevenly distributed, it is still a significant leap for a country that has been reeling under an energy crisis, and where 280 million people don’t have access to electricity at all.
What has brought about this transformation?
Not surprisingly, it is the country’s energy backbone—coal. The national government has attributed this huge turnaround in energy production to the revival of coal plants and the reformation of the power distribution companies.
Coal India Limited (CIL), the state-owned coal producer, generated a record 536 million tonnes of coal in the year 2015–2016—an increase in coal production by 8.5 percent from the previous year.
The southern regions are projected to experience more surplus. This is mainly because of the revival of several dormant thermal power plants and the commissioning of new ones.
Both the national government and the state governments have been keen to revive thermal power plants in the country and to expand coal production. Despite global calls to curtail thermal power, the states continue to announce commissioning of new thermal power plants as we speak.
Indian projected coal consumption of 1300 million tonnes of coal equivalent (Mtce) in 2040 will be 50 percent more than the combined demand of all 34 countries that form the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), including the United States and Canada.
India should continue to expand its coal production in order to meet this exponential increase in energy demand. CIL aims to more than double its coal production from about 600 million tonnes a year towards 1.5 billion tonnes by 2020.
It is critical to remember that this surplus in power still isn’t sufficient to meet the demand in the northern and eastern regions of the country. The surplus also won’t continue if, as is hoped, Indians’ incomes continue to rise, enabling more and more to afford, and so demand, electricity. The number without electricity has not been drastically reduced; neither has there been a significant progression in the connectivity and penetration of transmission grids.
The work is only half done. India needs more reforms in its thermal sector, and an aggressive energy policy that will tap into clean, safe, and affordable fossil fuel resources that can be utilized in an environmentally friendly way. Future diversification policies within the power sector should include nuclear and hydro power.
For now, this landmark achievement of surplus power should be celebrated. Taps will have water, movies can be watched on a Saturday night, and, more importantly, industries that provide employment to billions can continue to run without interruption.
Vijay Jayaraj is Research Associate for Developing Countries of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. The holder of an M.S. in Environmental Science from University of East Anglia, England, writes from Udumalpet, India.