India reached a milestone with annual coal consumption of one billion tonnes. Coal and lignite based power generation plants with installed capacity of 218 GW account for more than 50 per cent of the total power generation capacity in the country. Non-fossil fuels including hydro, solar, wind, biomass and nuclear energy add up to 190 GW of capacity.

The data for actual power generation reflect the true picture of the contribution of various energy sources. The output of power from non-fossil fuels remains low due to load factor of 20-25 per cent of the installed capacity. Lack of adequate water level in various reservoirs has hampered hydro-power generation. The very nature of solar and wind energy is such that they are heavily dependent on the time of the day and season. Amongst the fossil fuels, load factor of gas based power plants also remains below 20 per cent due to high cost of gas. Compared to this, coal-based power plants have an average load factor of almost 70 per cent. Therefore, coal and lignite accounted for almost 73 per cent of total power generation in the FY23. According to Union Government data, there was almost 10 per cent growth in power generation from fossil fuels, which is mainly coal, and a mere 3 per cent growth in power from renewable energy in FY24 (April-February).

Roadmap formulated

The government has formulated a roadmap for additional 80 GW thermal power generation capacity by 2032. Power produced from natural gas and diesel being prohibitively expensive, the entire additional thermal capacity will be based on coal and lignite.

The demand for power is expected to grow by 6-7 per cent per annum in the near future. Though the country has done well in recent years by increasing capacity based on non-fossils, the target of achieving 500 GW renewable capacity by 2030 requires addition of 50 GW of new renewable capacity every year. There are a number of challenges in achieving these levels of capacity additions. Availability of land, finance, materials and pace of development of infrastructure are some of the challenges. Even, if we assume that the target of 500 GW of non-fossil based power generation capacity is achieved by 2030, the output from this capacity will not be proportionate due to low utilisation factor for reasons explained above.

Therefore, coal will continue to remain the dominant fuel at least for the next 15 years. The Central Government has rightly maintained focus on adequate supply of coal by way of indigenous production and imports and also on addition of coal-based power generation capacity. Coal will remain the King of Indian energy supply. But it is also essential that all thermal power plants, old and new, adopt the best available technology for pollution control. The emission of particulate matter and nitrogen and sulphur gases should meet the latest environmental standards. Appropriate utilisation and disposal of fly ash must also be ensured.

There is also need to promote projects in right earnest where carbon dioxide emitted by use of coal as fuel is captured and utilised for production of methanol and urea. These products when produced with green ammonia will require carbon dioxide from an outside source. India produced about 31 million tonnes urea in FY24 using gas based ammonia. Even if 50 per cent of urea is produced using green ammonia in next 15 years, it can utilise more than 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted by power plants.

The writer is former ADG of Fertiliser Association of India. Views are personal