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Welcome improvements in coal production
At present, India’s per capita consumption of power is 1250kwh. It is being planned to raise this to 3000kwh. This jump will call for doubling the current generation capacity.

BULK of The new capacity, estimated around 175 GW, is expected from renewable sources of energy.  But, is this achievable? Can the new units stand-alone? S Akshaya Kumar, Chairman, TN Electricity Regulatory Commission, pointed to the dominant role played by coal-based thermal power stations and their improved management. 

Coal-fired power stations have operated as dependable and schedulable base load stations. Non-conventional power stations do not meet these criteria.

Solar power can typically be generated between 1000hrs and 1600hrs. However, the technology for storing this power is currently not viable. Therefore, the  discom has to align demand to supply continually, said Kumar. 

Companies like Tesla are engaged in finding solutions for storage of solar energy, but the challenge lies in finding solutions on large commercial scale. Also, the technology used in storage batteries and fuel cells are only evolving and large capacity DC motors are yet to be developed. 

There is an enormous potential for hydel power generation in the northeast, which, unfortunately, remains untapped, Kumar pointed out. 


Jump in coal production

There has been a remarkable improvement in the management of thermal power generation with significant developments relating to fuel. Earlier, large volumes of coal were imported at high cost. Minister of Power, Piyush Goyal, focused on domestic coal production. Production of coal increased by 16.4 per cent – from 565.8 million tonnes in 2013-14 to 659.3 million tonnes in 2016-17.   Also, a streamlined system of allocation was implemented resulting in a drastic reduction in import of expensive coal. 

From around 218mn tonnes in 2014-15, imports of coal have been falling: to 204mn tonnes in 2015-16 and 191 mn tonnes in 2016-17. This decline seems to continue through the current financial year as well. During the first quarter, import of coal was around 53m, which marks a fall of 8.1 per cent compared to the corresponding quarter of the previous year.

These improved production and reduction in imports were followed by the choice given to the discos for accessing coal from the nearest mines. Thus Tamil Nadu that earlier procured coal from Odisha and West Bengal is now purchasing it from nearby AP while continuing to purchase largely from Odisha. 


Field day for coal cartels

The practice of importing, through cartels, from Indonesia and elsewhere, has been scrapped. An international expert on coal assessed that the average price of coal in Indonesia was 60 dollars per tonne whereas cartels were charging TANGEDCO  $100 per tonne! Remember, imports ran into several million tonnes. Understandably these  had a kickback to the political masters. - SV  

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