Amid coal crisis, power plants meet record 201 GW demand

NEW DELHI: India’s power plants met maximum demand of over 201 GW (gigawatts) at 2.51 pm on Tuesday, beating the previous record of over 200 GW clocked on July 7 last year, as the economy began firing on all cylinders and a raging heatwave further fuelled consumption.

Coming amid low fuel inventories at coal-fired plants, which account for 75% of electricity flowing in the grid, the meeting of higher peak explains the faster depletion of fuel inventories at generation units and underlines the chinks in coal transportation.

The power ministry expects peak demand to touch 210 GW this month and is working towards ensuring all coal-fired power plants have fuel inventories to supply about 160 GW during peak hours. In terms of energy, the power ministry has pegged the requirement at more than 1650 billion units (BU) in 2022-23 against 1375 BU in 2021-22 BU and 1275 BU in 202-21.

Peak demand denotes the highest demand for electricity that occurs over a specified time period, usually in 15-minute slabs. Energy met is the units of power supplied in 24 hours. While the demand shows a clear upward curve, coal stocks at the power plants are hovering at 35-36% of the normative requirement, which is good for only about 11 days daily supplies fall short of the increased consumption.

Fuel inventories are running low despite curtailment of supply to non-power industries amid an 8% increase in domestic coal production and despatches from Coal India, which meets 80% of demand, 18% in 2021-22. Clearly, this indicates constraints in rail transportation. This has set off alarm bells in view of hotter months ahead and the monsoon, which impacts coal production.

The power ministry has initiated a slew of measures such as asking states to import coal, giving tariff relief to enable imported coal-based power plants to switch on, allowing tolling of states’ quota of supply from Coal India and extending diversion of such coal to more efficient plants for three years for optimum use of coal. The railways too have stepped up to meet the challenge by giving priority to coal movement and making more rakes available.