A fourth of India’s power generation capacity shut, mainly due to lack of fuel

At the beginning of April, the total capacity that was shut down was 66,534.31 MW, but the lack of fuel has tripped more units.

A fourth of India’s power generation capacity shut, mainly due to lack of fuel

At a time when India’s electricity demand is seen rising at the fastest pace in decades, almost a fourth of its total thermal, nuclear, and hydropower installed capacity is shut down.

According to the Central Electricity Authority’s operation performance monitoring report, 72,074.14 megawatts (MW) that comprise thermal, nuclear, and hydropower were shut down as of April 20. This accounts for almost 25% of the total monitored capacity of 289,581.24 MW. CEA’s monitored capacity includes thermal, hydro, and nuclear power units, but excludes 110 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy.

At the beginning of April, the total capacity that was shut down was 66,534.31 MW, but the lack of fuel has tripped more units.

“Mainly the shutdowns are due to coal shortage at power units. There is not enough coal supply from Coal India and there is a shortage of transport infrastructure. The other bigger issue is that some of the discoms are delaying payment, which means generators are unable to buy enough coal to run their plants,” Harry Dhaul, Director-General of the Independent Power Producers Association of India (IPPAI) told Moneycontrol.

Of the 72,074.14 MW units that were not operational as of April 20, only 9,744.85 MW are shut down for planned maintenance. CEA said that a capacity of 38,826.20 MW is under ‘forced’ shutdown, while another 23,503.09 MW is shut down due to other reasons.

Traditionally, power plants shut down for annual maintenance which is planned in advance, keeping the demand cycle in view. ‘Forced’ shutdown refers to those that power plants undertake due to unforeseen reasons relating to lack of fuel, the reluctance of state utilities to buy expensive power, technical glitches, or damages in plant equipment.

Low Fuel Alert

Indian power generating units have been hit hard with low coal supply, even as industrial demand has been high and rising temperature has escalated household demand. As on April 20, as many as 86 of 150 power plants running on domestic coal had critically low coal levels. The severity of the situation is evident from the fact that in two days alone five more units slipped below critical levels between April 18 and April 20. Most of these units cite a low supply of coal from Coal India Ltd and lack of rakes for transport as the key reasons.

Another 11 imported coal-based power plants also had critical levels of coal.

In a meeting with imported coal-based (ICB) power units on April 12, the Minister for Power and New & Renewable Energy RK Singh discussed that a capacity of 7,980 MW of ICB plants was not operational leading to more demand for domestic coal and thereby increasing pressure on the logistics for the domestic coal supply. The ministry has asked imported coal-based plants to get operations on time and also recommended that power generation companies must try to import coal for blending up to 10 percent, in order to reduce the burden on the domestic coal supply.“There is over 20,000 MW of gas-based capacity lying idle due to lack of fuel; generators were given a commitment that they would be given gas but they are still waiting. If these units start operating it will be significant. But the challenge is how to import gas at a national level and then distribute it among states,” Dhaul said.

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