In the light of the coal shortage crisis that is causing a stir across the country, the Tamil Nadu electricity minister V Senthil Balaji has assured that the southern state will not be hit by a major power crisis in the coming days.
While addressing the media at Trichy airport on October 10, the minister said that though the power from private thermal power plants has dropped due to coal shortage, his ministry was pursuing alternative measures to increase the power production.
The state requires 16,000 MW of power per day. However, due to the coal shortage, there is a gap of 2,500 MW, said experts. It is expected that the shortage will be filled through non-conventional sources of power, which will be to the tune of 4,000 MW.
To address the shortfall in power sourced from private thermal plants, Balaji said they will increase their own production of electricity with the available coal stock. Production in power plants had been increased to 70 per cent from 43 per cent in the last one month, said the minister.
Tamil Nadu (TN) is one of the states which has the most diversified electricity generation portfolio in the country. According to the state government’s policy note 2021-2022 on the energy department, the state has an installed capacity of 32,595.06 MW, which includes 50 per cent of conventional energy and 50 per cent of renewable energy sources.
The state has five thermal power stations with an installed capacity of 4,320 MW. At 100 per cent load factor, which is not possible, these plants need 72,000 tonnes of coal per day. But the state till last month received 62,000 tonnes per day, which has been further reduced to 55,000 tonnes, due to the coal crisis.
The coal stocks which is presently in the five thermal power stations will be adequate only for the next four or five days. But if the calorific value of the coal is taken into consideration, then it may not even last for even five days.
Also, earlier, TN used to store coal for 15 days but has discontinued this practice after a recent decision by the Union government that states which are located close to coal mines can stock only for six days. It is to be noted that TN gets coal from Mahanadi Coalfields in Odisha and Singaneri Coalfields in Telangana.
Against the backdrop of this scenario, power experts in the state have claimed that TN will not experience power failures.
‘Problem arises only in summer’
S Gandhi, president, Power Engineers Society of Tamil Nadu said that though the state can manage to overcome the coal shortage till December, it is doubtful how it will handle and meet the peak demand in the summer.
According to Gandhi, firstly due to the good rains, hydropower is being currently tapped. Secondly, besides the state’s thermal power plants, TN has shares in Neyveli, Ramagundam and Talcher power stations. Since they are all pit power stations (near by coal mines), the coal shortage does not exist there, he added.
Also, the state can use this coal since it’s calorific value is high, pointed out Gandhi.
Thirdly, the state has a long term power purchase agreement with eight private companies and they contribute substantially as well. “The state can compensate its coal shortage with all these measures,” asserted Gandhi.
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Only three private power companies such as the OPG Power Generation Private Limited, Tiruvallur, Coastal Energen Private Limited, Thoothukudi and ILFS, Cuddalore are importing coal. Since there is a coal shortage in these companies, there is some panic, admitted Gandhi.
“Moreover, we are not fully receiving the power from the companies under the long- term power purchase agreement. Until now, it did not matter but now the need has arisen. And, the state can turn to them now as well. Depending on all these factors, we believe that there are minimal chances for power shortages in the state,” he added.
But the real problem comes after January 2022. The summer will start early and if the present coal shortage is not addressed then it is difficult, said Gandhi.
Martin Scherfler, a renewable energy expert and co-founder, Auroville Consulting Group said while the coal supply shortage may be temporary, the current situation underlined the dependency on coal imports from other parts of India and from abroad. Such a dependency is a risk factor for the state’s energy supply security, he said.
Scherfler added, “According to the State Load Despatch Centre (SLDC) data, as of October 11, about 4 per cent energy came from hydro, 30 per cent from wind and solar, and the rest from thermal energy. The SLDC unfortunately only publishes daily data and does not keep a historical archive.”
Moreover, he pointed out that considering the fact that coal power is costlier than renewables, it has substantial negative human health and climate impacts, and poses significant risks in terms of energy supply security. “It may be a good time for the state to re-evaluate whether adding another 6.5 GW of coal power plants makes sense at this stage,” suggested Scherfler.