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How Coal Shortage and Heatwave Have Led to Power Outage in India



May 3, 2022 - India is reeling under immense heatwave and rise in temperatures as an unusually early and brutal summer season knocks at its doors. Adding to the woes, several states in India are witnessing indiscriminate hours-long outages. What is even more worrying is that fact that such power cuts are not the normal ones.

The power outages across the country are a result of coal shortage in India. Failures of coal supply, non-payment of dues, and a spike in demand all have added to this power failure which is affecting millions as demand for electricity surges to record levels.

India is staring at a crisis induced by a debilitating fuel shortage at coal-fired thermal plants, which produces 70% of the country's electricity. Barely five months ago India saw a power crisis in October 2021 following unusually heavy rains that flooded several mines. Coal shortages after the monsoon season is normal, but this year the increasing heatwaves have made things difficult.

In the national capital for example, a 72-year record was broken this April, with temperatures hitting 42.6 degrees Celsius on April 11. Supplies of coal at many thermal power plants are running perilously low, resulting in daily power outages in several states. The shortages are sparking scrutiny of India's long reliance on coal for generating electricity.

India recorded its hottest March month this season since 1901, the India Meteorological Department said. 

The average temperatures in April in northern and central parts of the country were the highest in 122 years.

Temperatures breached 45 degrees Celsius in 10 cities last week, although cloudy skies and rain could bring some relief.

Climate change is making severe temperatures more frequent, with heatwaves likely to hit India about once every four years.

This is instead of every five decades in the past, said Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College London.

The dry weather added to challenges as water levels in rivers depleted to reduce hydropower production.

Current power cuts are hurting economic activity, which had been rebounding after Covid pandemic shutdowns.

This could disrupt essential services such as hospitals, dispensaries, government offices, experts warn.

Many states including Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan are experiencing blackouts of up to seven hours.

Railways has cancelled more than 750 passenger trains to allow more freight trains to move coal from mines to the power plants.

Out of India's 165 coal plants, 94 are facing critically low coal supplies while 8 are not operational as of Sunday.

This data is from the Central Electricity Authority. This means stocks have dropped below 25% of normal levels.

Currently, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Maharashtra, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh are facing some of the longest power cuts in the country.

Of the 12 states facing a shortage, Andhra Pradesh's situation is the worst. It has reduced its industrial supply by 50% and imposed massive power cuts.

Gujarat has asked industries to remain shut once a week to make up for its 500 MW shortage.

Maharashtra has been facing a shortage of over 3,000 MW on average for the last 2-3 weeks and blames some producers of cutting output.

Rajasthan has a generating capacity of 10,110MW a day, of which only around 6,600MW is being currently produced because of the coal shortage.

Punjab saw a 35% increase in its power demand, 8,000MW in April as against 6,000MW during the same period last year.

Punjab's PSPCL has been buying electricity from open sources at Rs 10.7 a unit as it had to shut down its thermal units because of the coal shortage.

Jharkhand's own plants were not operating at optimum level because of the coal shortage. Bihar’s shortfall on April 28 was 1,000MW.