New Delhi, April 29

The earlier-than-expected summer, rising power consumption and depleting coal supplies at power plants are factors adding to a power crisis bigger than that faced during October last year, when several states faced hours of power cuts.

According to Power System Operation Corporation (POSOCO) data, till April 28, the total energy shortage recorded was 2,072.08 million units (MU), or a whopping 2.07 billion units (BU). For perspective, during October 2021, the energy shortage was around 1.23 BU. In April 2021, the energy shortage was at 417 MU.

Terming the situation as concerning, a senior government official said all efforts are on to meet the coal demand. The plan going ahead is to replenish, through domestic sources and imports, before August when mining and supply starts decreasing due to the rains, he added.

Deepening Energy shortage

Energy shortage has been rising consistently in the current calendar year. For instance, during January 2022 the shortage recorded was 315 MU. It went down to 260 MU in February before rising to 619 MU in March.

Power consumption and shortage data also indicates a similar story. For instance, on April 28, India’s peak power demand met during the day hit an all time high of 204.65 gigawatts (GW), while on the same day, energy shortage stood at 192.11 (MU). Similarly, on April 26 and April 27, the peak demand met was 201.06 GW and 200.65 GW, respectively, while shortage stood at 120.07 MU and 198.51 MU, respectively. Energy shortage since April 26 has been among the highest since January 2022.

Sources said that with summer temperatures already at 46 degrees and indications of heat waves projected, the supply-demand scenario seems to be heading south. “This is because in October last year power crisis was short lived due to winter months, but this time situation is worse as there are at least 4-5 months of peak demand ahead,” one of the sources pointed out.

Stretched coal supplies

As on April 28, the domestic coal based (DCB) power plants had reserve stock for just 7.6 days, while imported coal based (ICB) plants had for 7.7 days. Besides, 88 DCB plants and 12 ICB plants have critical stocks (stocks below 25 per cent of normative requirement).

Passenger trains make way for coal rakes

Sources said that the situation is “unprecedented”. “It can be gauged from the fact that Railways is cancelling passenger train trips to make way for coal rakes, even as there have been protests in some states due to cancellations,” said a source.

“Railways has cancelled 753 trips across 21 trains till May 24 across mail/ express and passenger trains. The majority being long distance mail and express trains. Many trips cancelled are to and from Chhattisgarh – the coal belly of India. This has been done to allow more access to coal rakes to power plants.”

Railway sources said it is an interim measure, and cancellations have been done in non-priority sectors and less busy routes.

On April 28, of the total 533 rakes, the Power sector was allocated 427 rakes carrying 1.62 million tonnes (MT) of the crucial commodity with one rake carrying 3,800 tonnes of the critical dry fuel.

October coal-power crisis

During October last year, the country faced an acute shortage of coal supplies at power plants that led to several states facing hours of power cuts. Following which the centre sprung into action and took measures to replenish stocks. Subsequently the coal stock rose from a meagre 7.2 MT on October 8, 2021 to around 25 MT on January 26, 2022.

Power Minister R K Singh in a written response to Rajya Sabha on December 2 last year said, “During April-October, 2021, about 817.8 BUs energy was supplied against the requirement of about 821.7 BU, a shortfall of only 0.47 per cent which was due to constraints in distribution network and financial constraints of discoms.”