Heatwaves and coal shortage fuel power blackouts across states in India

A potent combination of sweltering summer and acute coal shortages have triggered blackouts across many parts of the country as states struggle to manage record demand for electricity and low feedstock at power plants.

From Jammu and Kashmir to Andhra Pradesh, consumers are facing power cuts ranging from 2 hours to 8 hours. Factories are the worst hit as the industrial sector is the first port of call for regulating electricity supplies.

After the hottest March on record, a large part of the country continued to experience extreme heat in April, sending power demand to an all-time high. The total electricity shortage in the country has hit 623 million units, surpassing the total shortage in March.

At the heart of the crisis are low inventories of coal — the fossil fuel that produces 70 per cent of India’s electricity. While the government insists that there is enough coal available to meet the demand, the reduced availability of railway rakes to transport coal has led to coal inventories being at the lowest pre-summer levels in at least nine years. Also, with international energy prices shooting up following the war in Ukraine, coal imports have dipped.

The Union government has asked states to step up coal imports for the next three years to build up inventories. Thermal plants across the country are grappling with coal shortages, indicating a looming power crisis in the country, All India Power Engineers Federation (AIPEF) said.

Peak power demand met or the highest supply in a day was 200.65 GW on April 27 while peak power shortage was 10.29 GW.

Latest data showed that 147 non-pit head plants with total capacity of over 163 GW monitored by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) had 25 per cent of the normative coal stocks on April 26. These plants had 14,172 thousand tonnes of coal against the norm of 57,033 thousand tonnes. Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, has a 3,000 MW deficit. Against the demand of around 23,000 MW, the supply is just 20,000 MW, resulting in load shedding in rural areas and smaller towns.

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