As summer looms, India orders coal-fired power plants to max out – KGET 17

BENGALURU, India (AP) — For the second year in a row, India’s government has ordered the nation’s coal-fired power plants to operate at full capacity. But this year’s order is even more extensive than last year’s — all coal and oil-fired generators will be used for the entire summer, from April to June. Analysts say this will dramatically increase India’s already high greenhouse gas emissions.

Seventy miles from Calcutta in the Indian state of West Bengal, 48-year-old Kakali Halder knows the reason for the order. She and several hundred other seamstresses in the Mathurapur Sanghati Swayamber Sangha, a group that makes garments and shares the proceeds among themselves, have struggled to get orders when they can’t rely on electricity.

Despite their proximity to the megacity of Kolkata, they lost power almost daily during part of last year’s sweltering summer. The machines would go silent, halting progress on the uniforms they were contracted to supply.

“Sometimes there was a power outage up to 12 o’clock. We had to use manual sewing machines and sew by hand,” said Halder, the secretary of her group. They lost money they couldn’t afford to lose and endured the pain of working overtime to complete a job that should have taken half the time.

Cooling systems across the country, now more urgently needed as climate change adds heat to already hot temperatures, were draining the grid. Several northern states, including West Bengal, Rajasthan and Gujarat, faced regular power outages. The government’s order to keep coal-fired power plants running is an example of global warming fueling action that further exacerbates climate change.

India is the second largest country in the world by population and the third largest broadcaster. It relies on its abundant coal — plus some imports — for about 70% of its electricity. India has hundreds of coal-fired power plants and mines scattered across the country. The government expects electricity demand to peak at 229 gigawatts in April.

India “must ensure energy security because it is crucial for the country’s development and growth,” said Alok Kumar, a top official in India’s federal power ministry. He said that India is fully achieving its climate goals and will continue to do so.

But others see national politics influencing the call for generating stations — including the oldest or dirtiest ones that burn — to run at full capacity for the summer. Major regional elections in the politically important southern Indian state of Karnataka will be held on May 10, and national elections to choose a new prime minister will be held next year.

“There is a strong political push to ensure regular electricity supply this summer,” said Aditya Lolla, an energy policy analyst at London-based think tank Ember.

Electricity availability and electricity subsidies acutely affect election results in India, and incumbent political parties are keen to ensure uninterrupted supply, especially with elections around the corner.

Climate change is not only increasing daytime heat. It also often means temperatures don’t drop as much at night. That increases cooling demand in the evening, Lolla said.

Energy consumption in India increased by 10% this February compared to last. Records could be broken in the coming weeks.

India currently meets about 10% of its energy needs through renewable energy sources. Although there is rapid growth in clean energy, it is nowhere near enough to meet peak demand.

One thing experts agree is needed is a massive amount of new energy storage, usually a large array of batteries. The idea behind storage is to charge batteries from excess power on the grid during hours when demand is low. Currently, India has only 3 gigawatts of storage, or enough to serve about 3 million homes for a year.

“Energy storage is important to ensure an uninterrupted supply during extreme weather events, as well as to move firmly towards clean energy,” said Ammu Jacob, a scientist at the think tank Center for the Study of Science, Technology and Policy. Jacob said that without more storage, it will be harder to integrate wind and solar power into the grid even if new renewable energy projects emerge, because of its intermittency.

One of the issues for building warehouses is cost, but costs are coming down, Jacob said. And the alternative, the damage to lives and livelihoods from extreme weather caused by climate change, is also costly.

To accelerate India’s energy transition, “international climate finance is essential,” said Ember’s Lola.

On average, the country will need to install more than 40 gigawatts of clean energy each year to meet its 2030 target. But it needs a parallel plan to phase out coal-fired power, Ember’s Lolla said. India has announced a net-zero goal for 2070, but its path to get there is still unclear, Lolla said. India can’t wait to meet its target of 175 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2022.

But for those like Kakali Halder, the more pressing hope is that last year’s blackouts won’t return.

“All our customers are local and they understand if orders are late, but at the same time, no one is waiting forever,” she said.


Follow Sibi Arasa on Twitter at @sibi123


Associated Press climate and environmental reporting receives support from several private foundations. Read more about AP’s climate initiative here. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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