Just a few weeks ago Oilprice reported that India is nowhere near ready to kick fossil fuels. As the country’s population continues to grow and more and more Indians join ranks of the middle class, the country’s energy demand is set to far outpace its renewable energy capacity. In fact, it’s going to take all of the fossil fuels as well as renewable energy the nation has just to keep up with demand. Now, new reports are showing that as India’s economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic and the nation eases restrictions, the nation’s energy demand has skyrocketed so quickly that India is scrambling to import coal as their own producers come up short.
Nearly a fifth of the entire global population lives in India. While the rate of growth has slowed down considerably in recent years, the subcontinent’s population continues to expand. What’s more, each year more and more Indians are enjoying more disposable income and access to goods and services than ever before, driving up the subcontinent’s voracious hunger for energy in any form.
“In fact, because India’s demographics are much younger compared to China and the US, India’s middle class could be the largest in the world (in terms of numbers of people) by 2025,” the Financial Express reported earlier this year.
All of this is to say that every move that India makes in terms of energy and emissions has an enormous impact on the worldwide struggle against climate change at a time when global cooperation has never been more important to mitigate the worst impacts of global warming. Last month the United Nations (UN) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a “code red for humanity” with a new devastating report that we have now reached the point of no return in terms of climate change. Human activity has already irreversibly changed weather patterns and altered the climate, but it’s still possible to avoid the worst impacts of catastrophic climate change if world leaders and industries work in earnest and with urgency to cut emissions down to zero as quickly as possible.
And now, against this grim backdrop, India’s coal consumption is skyrocketing. As the dirtiest fossil fuel, the elimination of coal from the global energy mix is paramount for mitigating the worsening of the greenhouse effect. As Indians move out of social isolation and back into their daily routines, however, the demand for energy is so great that the government has urged utilities to start importing coal from other countries, as several major power plants teeter on the edge of running out of fuel completely.
According to data from India’s Central Electricity Authority, more than half of the 135 coal-fired plants were facing less than a week’s supply of coal before running out, and 50 plants had fewer than three days’ worth of fuel left. Six plants had already run out of coal entirely.
“India is the second largest importer of coal despite having the world's fourth largest reserves, and coal powers over 70% of the country's electricity demand,” Reuters reported this week. What’s more, “overall electricity generation rose 16.1% in August, while coal-fired power output rose 23.7% from a year earlier.”
While the Indian government has been trying to cut down on coal imports, that aim has proven impossible as the economy -- the third-largest in Asia -- continues to expand. India primarily imports coal from Indonesia, Australia, and South Africa. Indian electricity markets benefited greatly earlier this year from the trade spat and unofficial coal boycott between Australia and China, buying up huge volumes of the discounted Australian coal initially intended for Chinese markets. But even those stockpiles are not enough to keep up with demand.