Coal-fired power falls 3% in April-Dec 2019

M Ramesh Chennai | Updated on February 23, 2020 Published on February 23, 2020

Capacity utilisation fell to 55.78% compared with the previous year’s achievement of 59.51%

Thermal power seems to be on terminal decline. Generation from India’s coal power plants fell 3 per cent in April-December 2019, compared with the same period of the 2018, and 9 per cent over the target for the period.

India has installed coal power capacity of 198,842 MW. Data given in the National Power Portal shows that the generation from these plants fell to 718,710 GWhr in April-December period of 2019, compared with 740,862 GWhr in the corresponding period of 2018, and the target of 791,401 GWhr.

Correspondingly, the plant load factor — a measure of capacity utilisation — also fell to 55.78 per cent, compared with the target of 60.10 per cent and the previous year’s achievement of 59.51 per cent.

These data, however, are entirely on expected lines. The reasons — as the research and ratings agency, ICRA, had noted when it analysed the numbers for the April-October period — are that the good rains perked up hydro power generation, while supply from renewable energy continued to grow.

But the problems of the coal sector go deeper than just the competition from hydro and renewable energy. There are structural issues, as another set of data from the National Power Portal reveals.

Stranded for over a year

Right now, 19,013 MW of coal and gas power capacity has been lying idle for more than one year. This includes 2,766 MW of coal power projects that have no power purchase agreement in place.

Another 1,150 MW of coal power projects have been shuttered because there is no coal to run them.

Together, with two plants with technical issues (Sterlite 600 MW and Chandrapur 130 MW) and two more (Giral, 125 MW each) that are to be scrapped, nearly 5,000 MW of coal power plants stopped humming at least over a year ago.

There are some more that have been mum for several months — the 600-MW Temnar project will complete the anniversary of its silence next month; 300-MW Binjkote and 210-MW Meija have been down for nearly six months.

A July 2019 study of the Pune-based think-tank, Prayas Energy, noted that the issue of coal shortage pops up from time to time. It noted that while against the advice of the Central Electricity Authority that coal-fired power plants should stock up enough coal for 20-30 days of operation at 85 per cent PLF, in reality many plants have around 10 days of stock at 70 per cent capacity.

To tide over the shortage, power plants some times import coal. In the last two years, 38 million tonnes of coal was imported by power plants that were not meant to operate on imported coals — the plant operated blended imported coal with the domestic, to charge the boilers.

Thus the coal power sector is buffeted on both sides. On the one side, there is uncertainty over supply of coal, while on the other, there is menacing competition from renewable energy. Power from wind and solar plants is available at or less than ₹3 a kWhr, a price far lower than the average power purchase cost (APPC) of any State-owned electricity distribution company.

Discoms are not buying power from them. Among those that are suffering from ‘low schedule’ are Simhapuri 600 MW, Thamminapatnam 300 MW and Wardha 135 MW.

Gas plants

The state of affair of the gas-based plants is more dismal. Since there is just no gas available, dozens of plants that were built on the promise of steady supply of gas have been stranded for several years — examples are those of Ratnagiri, Pipavav, Essar and Penguthan. There is little for them to do except hope for a major gas discovery in India.

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Published on February 23, 2020
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