India’s Transation away from Coal

  • IASbaba
  • June 2, 2022
  • 0
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Context: Finance Minister said India’s transition away from coal as a fuel for power would be hampered by the Russia-Ukraine war

Why is the ‘move away from coal’ so important?

  • An effective way to keep the danger (unprecedented natural calamities as a result of climate change) at bay is to cut the use of fossil fuels — coal, natural gas and oil.
  • About 80% of the world’s energy requirements are met by these three fuels.
  • They have likely brought on the climate crisis we now face, as they trigger the emission of carbon dioxide.
  • The worst culprit of them all is coal, which emits nearly twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas and about 60% more than oil, on a kilogram-to-kilogram comparison.
  • Combusting coal also leaves behind partially-burnt carbon particles that feed pollution and trigger respiratory disorders.
  • The consequence of these chemical reactions gains great significance because, the power sector in India accounts for 49% of total carbon dioxide emissions, compared with the global average of 41%.

India’s dependence on coal

  • As of February 2022, the installed capacity for coal-based power generation across the country was 2.04 lakh megawatt (MW)
  • This accounts for about 5% of power from all sources. This compares with about 25,000 MW of capacity based on natural gas as fuel, or a mere 6.3% of all installed capacity.
  • Renewable power accounted for 1.06 lakh MW or 27%.
  • Coal-based power stations are retired periodically which happens all the time. But is not fast enough nor are new additions being halted
  • For FY20, for example, India added 6,765 MW power capacity based on coal as fuel. But only 2,335 MW was retired.
  • According to the IEA’s Coal Report 2021, India’s coal consumption will increase at an average annual rate of 3.9% to 1.18 billon tonnes in 2024.

How has war made India’s move away from coal difficult?

  • Natural gas has been dubbed as the transition fuel in India’s plans to move away from coal.
  • The international cost of natural gas has zoomed in the recent past (War) from a level that was considered already too high to be financially viable.
  • Of the 25,000 MW of gas-based power plants, about 14,000 MW remains stranded, or idle, because they are financially unviable.

Coal availability crisis

  • Depleting coal supplies at thermal power plants has resulted in power crisis.

Possible Causes of the Power Crisis

  • Revival of Economic Activities: The heatwaves and revival of economic activities after Covid-19 disruptions propelled electricity demand.
  • Inefficiency of TPPs: The TPPs’ inability to ramp up power generation is explained by critical coal stockpile levels at plant sites.
  • Multiple Structural Fault Lines
  • Cash Flow Problem In The Electricity Sector: The inability of discoms to recover costs has resulted in outstanding dues of over ₹1 lakh crore to power generation companies. Consequently, power generation companies (GenCos) default on payments to Coal India Limited (CIL).
  • Discom Losses: Despite two decades of sectoral reforms, the aggregate losses of discoms stand at 21% (2019-20). This is reflective of both operational inefficiency and poor recovery of dues from consumers

Way forward

  • Planning and Policy Reforms: Policy focus should be on long-term structural solutions that address distribution financial viability and a robust mechanism for resource planning
  • Enabling Ecosystem: The need is to create an enabling ecosystem to ensure power plants work efficiently
  • Strategic Energy Transition: A strategic approach to the energy transition that harnesses the low-cost power promise of renewable energy and opportunities for diversification in energy mix is critical to address persisting power shortages.
  • Focussing on Domestic Production and Reducing Imports: Increasing domestic production to reduce and even avoid imports altogether is imperative.


  • Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock with a high amount of carbon and hydrocarbons.
  • Coal is classified as a nonrenewable energy source because it takes millions of years to form.
  • Coal is also called black gold
  • It is used as a domestic fuel, in industries such as iron and steel, steam engines and to generate electricity. Electricity from coal is called thermal power.

The distribution of coal in Indian is in two categories:

  • Gondwana Coalfields that are 250 million years old
  • Tertiary Coalfields that are 15 to 60 million years old.

Gondwana Coalfields

  • Gondwana coal makes up to 98% of the total coal reserves in India and 99% of the coal production in India.
  • Gondwana coal is free from moisture and contains phosphorus and sulphur
  • The carbon content in Gondwana coal is less compared to the Carboniferous coal
  • Gondwana coal forms India’s metallurgical grade as well as superior quality coal.
  • These basins occur in the valleys of certain rivers viz., the Damodar (Jharkhand-West Bengal); the Mahanadi (Chhattisgarh-Odisha); the Son (Madhya Pradesh Jharkhand); the Godavari and the Wardha (Maharashtra-Andhra Pradesh); the Indravati, the Narmada, the Koel, the Panch, the Kanhan and many more.
  • The volatile compounds and ash (usually 13 – 30 percent) and don’t allow Carbon percentage to rise above 55 to 60 percent.

Tertiary Coal Fields

  • Carbon content is very low but is rich in moisture and sulphur.
  • Tertiary coalfields are mainly confined to extra-peninsular regions.
  • Important areas include Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Himalayan foothills of Darjeeling in West Bengal, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Kerala.

Types of Coal

  • On the basis of carbon content, it can be classified into the following three types:


  • This is the best quality of coal and contains 80 to 95 percent carbon. It has very little volatile matter and a negligibly small proportion of moisture.
  • In India, it is found only in Jammu and Kashmir (in Kalakot) and that too in small quantities.


  • This is the most widely used coal. It varies greatly in composition in carbon content (from 60 to 80 percent) and moisture. It is dense, compact, and is usually of black colour.
  • It does not have traces of original vegetable material from which it has been formed.
  • Its calorific value is very high due to high proportion of carbon and low moisture content.
  • Most of the bituminous coal is found in Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh.


  • Also known as brown coal, lignite is lower-grade coal and contains about 40 to 55 percent carbon.
  • It represents the intermediate stage in the alteration of woody matter into coal. Its colour varies from dark to black-brown.
  • Its moisture content is high (over 35 percent) so that it gives out much smoke but little heat.
  • It is found in Palna of Rajasthan, Neyveli of Tamil Nadu, Lakhimpur of Assam, and Karewa of Jammu and Kashmir.


  • This is the first stage of transformation of wood into coal and contains less than 40 to 55 percent carbon, sufficient volatile matter, and a lot of moisture.

Coal Reserves in India by State (Top 3)


Previous Year Questions (PYQs)

Q.1) With reference to the mineral resources of India, consider the following pairs: (2010)

Mineral             90% Natural sources in

  1. Copper:        Jharkhand
  2. Nickel:      Orissa
  3. Tungsten:    Kerala

Which of the pairs given above is/are correctly matched?

  1. 1 and 2 only
  2. 2 only
  3. 1 and 3 only
  4. 1, 2 and 3

Source: The Hindu

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