India, which maintains the world’s second largest operating coal-fired capacity, announced 11.3 gigawatts (GW) of new thermal power plants (TPPs) running on dry fuel — the highest in the last seven years.

According to the Boom and Bust Coal 2024 report by the Global Energy Monitor (GEM), the world’s second largest coal consumer, which accounts for more than a tenth of the world’s operating coal based capacity, added 5 GW of coal-fired power units last year, compared to 2 GW in 2022.

“In 2023, public and private sector actors introduced 11.4 GW of entirely new coal proposals in India, which is more than newly proposed capacity in any year since 2016,” the report said.

Although three-fourths (8.6 GW) of this new capacity is backed by government-owned enterprises, both at the central and State levels, private entities such as Essar and Adani Power also proposed the 1.2 GW Kajurda power station and 1.6 GW Raikheda expansion, it added.

Expanding coal fleet

The report pointed out that even as developments in 2022 projected mixed signals on the role of coal power in India’s future energy landscape, the advancements in coal plant proposals as well as government directives in 2023 indicate that India’s coal fleet could very well continue to expand for at least the next few years.

In December 2023, the Power Ministry announced plans to add nearly 88 GW of new thermal power plant capacity, much of which would be coal-fired, to the grid by 2032.

“With the central government having paved the way for massive coal power expansion in the coming years, private firms are heeding the call and have expressed interest in the financing and buildout of some of India’s proposed new coal capacity after years of private investment shares dwindling in the sector,” the report said.

The national electricity plan has projected that 25.58 GW would likely be commissioned during 2022–2027, with almost again as much (25.48 GW) planned for commissioning from 2027–2032.

India commissioned 5.5 GW of new coal capacity in 2023, of which 1.8 GW is privately owned and the remaining 3.7 GW is owned by government enterprises—public sector undertakings (PSUs), state enterprises, or joint ventures between the two.

Last year, the report pointed out that 10 coal-fired units across six power stations received environmental clearances, totalling 7.3 GW of newly permitted coal capacity for the year. An even greater capacity of coal plant proposals moved forward in the permitting process, with 15.2 GW across twelve different plants receiving Terms of Reference (ToR) in 2023.

The year 2023 also witnessed 2.2 GW of shelved capacity, all of which was privately owned, be reactivated into the permitting process.

“Along with the government’s pledge to double coal production within the next four years, these developments make it clear that, despite recent progress toward increasing India’s renewable energy capacity, the country has no intentions of phasing coal down or out,” the report pointed out.

Global additions

The GEM report pointed out that even as new retirement plans and phaseout commitments continue to emerge globally, less coal capacity was retired in 2023 than in any other single year in more than a decade.

In 2023, 69.5 GW of global coal power capacity was commissioned while 21.1 GW was retired, resulting in a net annual increase in the global coal fleet of 48.4 GW, which is the highest net increase since 2016. It represents a 2 per cent annual increase in the global operating coal fleet, which currently stands at 2,130 GW.

380.8 GW of pre-construction capacity hangs in the balance — 92.8 GW is announced, 113 GW is in pre-permit development, and 175.1 GW is permitted. China accounts for 70 per cent of the capacity, with a total of 267.9 GW under consideration.

India, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Turkey, Russia, Pakistan, and Vietnam collectively account for 95 per cent of this capacity. India (46 GW) accounts for nearly half of the planned capacity within these ten countries.