India does not have a problem with availability of coal, which accounts for almost 50 per cent of the country’s installed generation capacity. However, there is an issue with supply of the commodity by the Railways.

“There is no problem of coal in the country, where there is availability of coal, there is a constraint of railway logistics. The Railways has said that it will take time to remove it as some railways network related work is in progress,” Power Secretary Alok Kumar told the Parliamentary standing committee on energy last month.

Last week, the committee placed before Parliament its report on the Power Ministry’s demand for grants for FY24. The panel took oral evidence from representatives of the Power Ministry on February 24, 2023 and it was considered and adopted on March 13, 2023.

On March 9, the Ministry said that Railways has agreed to provide 418 rakes a day for coal and will enhance it in due course. Coal supply through rakes for the power sector in April-February FY23 stood at an average 408 rakes per day against 344 rakes a year-ago. In February, 426.3 rakes per day were loaded against 399 rakes last year.

Power demand assessment

When the panel inquired about the Ministry’s assessment of the country’s power demand during summers, Kumar said the Ministry estimates the peak demand to hit 230 gigawatts (GW) in April 2023, for which generation capacity is available.

On variability of renewable energy (RE), Kumar explained to the panel that there is a management problem in April because hydro generation is less due to the snow not melting completely and wind power is also not available. It is available in May.

“In April, there is a supply problem and it is a challenge for us. For this, we have made arrangements for coal and have asked NTPC to run a 5,000 megawatt (MW) gas based plant, for which gas has also been arranged from GAIL. If some amount is required for this, we will give it from the Power System Development Fund,” Kumar added.

Rationing coal

On March 24, the Ministry, in a directive said that it will ration supply of domestic coal to power plants for the April-June 2023 period due to shortage of 21 million tonnes (MT) on account of limited availability of railway rakes.

As per the plan, domestic coal would be allocated in the ratio of fortnightly average generation by Gencos. Besides, coal required by pithead plants (through MGR/Conveyor, other means) will be excluded since it does not use the railway’s network. Similarly, plants taking coal through ‘road only’ mode and coal made available from captive mines will not be provided rakes.

“If States are found to be selling power generated from domestic coal at notified price in significant amounts in the power exchange, their rakes will be reduced accordingly. It is advised that surplus power may be made available to other discoms through PushP Portal,” it added.