India also cold on coal

Following my post on China, I took a look at the situation in India, generally seen as the source of the next big ramp-up in coal-fired electricity. I found this article by Giles Parkinson, who suggests on the contrary

poor supply and pipeline infrastructure, and the high cost of coal imports mean that coal- and gas-fired generation is becoming unviable, even in a country with huge economic growth, an energy deficit and massive energy needs.

Following some of the companies mentioned by Parkinson, I found the recent news is even worse for coal-fired power, and better for renewables and the environment

Tata Power

As an aside, there have been a lot of stories about a boom in coal-fired power in Europe, in response to low global coal prices. At least in part, though, the story seems to be that the plants in question had been allotted a fixed number of operating hours before they closed down under the EU “large combustion plant directive which forces high-polluting power plants to close by the end of 2015 or after 20,000 operating hours from January 2008 unless they fitted greenhouse gas reducing equipment. So, the combination of cheap coal and expensive gas made it profitable to use up the hours quickly, then shut down, as with these UK plants.

39 thoughts on “India also cold on coal

  1. The recent World Resources Institute coal paper that caused a stir is here

    and their source for data on India is here:

    Some interesting figures about new coal capacity in India:

    Newly commissioned (since 1/1/2010) 41,758 MW
    Under Construction 103,292 MW
    In planning, Early or Advanced Development: 360,000 MW

    I don’t see that these figures need any further comment.

  2. Let’s hope that from now on, it costs less to wire up villages with solar/wind than to new coal power stations.

  3. India has almost twice the intensity of sunlight, on average, that China has. It also has more expensive coal. If solar can be even close to viable in China, which the rate at which they are installing it suggests it is, it should win easily in India.

  4. @quokka Well, maybe one comment. The actual rate of completion is about 20GW/year and, assuming 5 years construction the projects currently under construction don’t show much acceleration. By contrast, the ‘planned’ figures involve a tripling of the rate of construction. So, the projections are inconsistent with the evidence cited in the post.

  5. No need to worry about solar being viable in India, Stephen L. India had, and probably still has, the cheapest per watt installed solar in the world for their solar farms. India restricted imports of solar panels from China, but for some reason it only applied to silcon solar panels, so they imported a lot of low cost thin film PV and set it up using, by our standards, very cheap labour. As for point of use solar, it’s the only source of electricity for millions of Indians. I’m guessing that India will be the first country to install solar for a dollar a watt simply because they have a lot of engineers and business people working on reducing costs and hundreds of millions that don’t have access to grid electricity.

  6. According to the Indian Government Ministry of New and Renewable Energy Feb 2011 Strategic Plan, 2017 grid connected targets are:

    Wind: 27,300 MW
    Solar: 4,035 MW

    Click to access strategic_plan_mnre_2011_17.pdf

    Assuming 20% capacity factor for PV, 30% for wind and 80% for coal, total wind+PV in 2017 will generate as much electricity as about 11 MW of coal or about 10-11% of coal capacity currently under construction. The Solar+wind target would also produce about the same amount of electricity as India’s projected nuclear capacity in 2017 with the completion of reactors currently under construction.

  7. Here are updated (Dec 2012) Indian Government 2017 and 2022 targets for solar:

    Grid Connected: 4000-10000 MW
    Off Grid: 1000 MW

    Grid Connected: 20000 MW
    Off Grid: 2000 MW

    Grid connected includes roof top.

    Click to access draft-jnnsmpd-2.pdf

    It doesn’t make much difference.

  8. Indian conglomerate GVK (‘Ambani’) is set to buy the Abbott Point coal terminal in Queensland. In partnership with Gina Rinehart they want to mine coal in the Galilee Basin. It may never happen
    Before Ms Rinehart wanted African workers on $2 a day she expressed admiration for the idea of guest workers from India.

    Continuous average energy consumption in the UK and Australia is about 5 kilowatts per person. China and India’s combined population of over 2.5 bn would therefore consume about 12.5 terawatts which would nearly double the world total. There’s probably not enough easily mined coal left to do this by burning carbon. Possibly a global frugal middle class could get by on 2 kw average consumption but that won’t allow for many private cars or air conditioners.

  9. He Johno, Monckton is back in town in March. Your chance to show the charlatan up. Look forward to seeing the result.

  10. I think it is clear that private automobiles of the large internal combustion engine type will become things of the past except for the very rich. Fuel will unaffordable. A point will be reached where hydrocarbon fuels will be mainly reserved for military, police and emergency services and maybe civil aviation.

    In any case, walking, mass transit, rail, bicycles and small electric vehicles will serve most personal transport needs adequately. Overall, a forced shift from an internal combustion and coil/oil/gas furnace powered society to solar/wind powered electrical society will be enormously beneficial in both reducing pollution and increasing energy utilisation efficiency.

    Air-conditioning will not be a problem. Firstly, clever passive design and insulation can ensure heating and cooling costs are minimised. Secondly, air-con in Australia can be driven solely by solar power. It is close to axiomatic that the time when you need air-con most is the time when the sun is hottest.

    The average sized house, if aided by good passive design and insulation, could be very adequately cooled by an air-con system rated at 5 kWh. All that is needed is a roof-top system that provides that produces about 10 kWh on a hot day (plus a solar hot water heater). Half of the power would power the air-con. The rest would power the house and earn a credit on the grid.

    This presupposes ultimately, a distributed electrical system where every consumer is also a producer. It also presupposes additional central generation by wind and solar (probably solar concentrating thermal and solar convection towers). It further presupposes mass energy storage in the form of water pumped to height (where hydro possibilities exist) and as heat stored in molten salt and rock aggregate tanks. Economic, industrial sized examples of this technology are working and proven right now. It’s just a matter of rolling them out everywhere.

    In addition, I endlessly point it out (but nobody on this blog seems to appreciate the significance of it) that large solar convection towers can produce power 24 hours a day. The temperature differential between earth surface and tower top is greater at night thus in fact resulting in more power production at night. The atmosphere at tower top cools faster than the earth’s surface cools at night.

    Sure, the entire project is big but since the alternative is that we, our children and our grandchildren all die horribly before 2100 (all 7 billion current to 9 billion projected of us) then I think it is imperative that we get cracking on this necessary global civilizational change.

  11. I’ll mention that electric cars are more than 4 times as efficient as normal internal combustion engine cars. That is, they’ll go more than 4 times further per unit of energy. While they can be charged with electricity from Hazelwood brown coal power plant, they can also be charged with solar or other low emission sources of electricity.

    I’ll also mention that if I didn’t have access to as much energy as I wanted, but I could afford Justin Bieber downloads, Justin Bieber T-shirts, and the Justin Bieber electric toothbrush, I would spend less money on Justin Bieber products and more money on things that either increase the amount of energy available to me or let me get more of what I want with the energy I have, such as a solar PV system, insulation, a more efficient TV/computer screen to watch Justin Beiber on and so forth.

  12. @Ronald Brak

    That’s right. A solar/wind electrical civilization will be anything from 5 to 10 times more efficient in its energy use. Especially with attendant avoidance of the absolute squandering of energy which goes on now.

    In addition, I would argue that a solar/wind electrical civilization built environment will be 1/10th as polluting and 1/100th as ugly (if one can quantify aesthetics) as a carbon/hydrocarbon powered civilization. If there is one thing that stands out about our current infrastructure and built environment it is its sheer dirtiness and ugliness. Every day it makes my sensibilities sick to look at it. There is little that is uglier than the slag-heaps (literal and metaphorical) of carbon/hydrocarbon powered civilization.

  13. @Ikonoclast
    Your comment pretty much describes my own view, Ikonoclast.

    The average sized house, if aided by good passive design and insulation, could be very adequately cooled by an air-con system rated at 5 kWh. All that is needed is a roof-top system that provides that produces about 10 kWh on a hot day (plus a solar hot water heater). Half of the power would power the air-con. The rest would power the house and earn a credit on the grid.

    This is basically identical to my own situation. A 1.5KW rooftop solar system delivers around 10KWh/day in the summer months, and a house with good passive solar features and insulation should only require aircon for several days during summer heatwaves.

  14. @Tim Macknay

    Actually, my post might have been a bit unclear. What I meant was you would need a system that produced an actual 9 kW to 10 kW per hour maximum through the sunniest parts of the day. This would mean a system of 44 x 250 watt (nameplate rating) panels so yes it would be a significant home installation.

    Alternatively like me you could have 22 x 250 watt panels plus evacuated tube solar hot water and air-condition one large retreat room relatively sparingly for say 12 hours per day (usually noon to midnight) on say the hottest 60 days and nights of the year. My retreat room is a downstairs rumpus on the southern side of the house well protected and insulated from all hot sunlight. I sleep down there too for the hottest months of the year.

    However, it ill behoves one to be a total sook so I often work manually outdoors in the mornings until 12:00 or 1:00 and I often walk for exercise in the hottest part of the day (with appropriate sun cover and hydration) just to ensure I remain a bit “heat toughened” as it were. But I hate sweating at the computer or sweating and tossing in bed since it can be avoided.

  15. @Ronald Brak

    I have, such as a solar PV system, insulation, a more efficient TV/computer screen to watch Justin Beiber on and so forth.

    Heavens! Throw in Nicky Minaj and there are a couple of my year 7s who would want to spend the summer vacation with you.

  16. @Ikonoclast

    Actually, my post might have been a bit unclear. What I meant was you would need a system that produced an actual 9 kW to 10 kW per hour maximum through the sunniest parts of the day. This would mean a system of 44 x 250 watt (nameplate rating) panels so yes it would be a significant home installation.

    It actually struck me after I’d posted my comment that my house is quite a bit smaller than the average. I do manage to deliver a surplus to the grid with a 1.5KW system, while being able to run an aircon and maintain thermal comfort. I’d be surprised that a system as big as 9-10KW would be necessary to do the job you describe, although it would certianly accomplish it with ease, and probably enable casual, rather than considered, aircon use. Mind you I haven’t bothered to try to calculate it so it’s entirely possible that a system that size would be necessary.

  17. @Ikonoclast
    I wonder if the Germans are as thrilled about the 135,000 km of new transmission line they need to build by 2030.

    This is all very good about shifting tasks to daytime PV. However we still have mines, hospitals, combine harvesters and aluminium smelters that might find it difficult. In the case of India the presumption seems to be that the poor will continue their deprived lifestyle except they will have electric lights instead of kero lamps. No Sunday drives in the SUV.

  18. Solar powered lighting is cheaper than the kerosene lighting so solar lighting makes people in India richer. Let me put it in power point form for you:

    1. Buy solar light.
    2. Stop buying kerosene.
    3. Profit.

    Of course, when you think about it, these kinds of step by step improvements made by Indians to improve their lives could actually be crowding out solutions that would immediately catapult poor rural Indians into in the ranks of the SUV driving rich, so maybe we maybe we should put pressure on the Indian government to ban Indian people from using their own money to buy solar lights and panels and sit back and wait for them to quantum tunnel their way to wealth.

  19. Quokka, the projections for offgrid solar you quote are ridiculously low. Consider, Solaraid expect to sell 300,000 (slightly subsidised) solar systems in Africa in the year to March. They’re the largest seller of small solar lamps in Africa, but hardly the only one, so the total will be something like a million. These systems are small, averaging perhaps 50w, so that is just 50MW of power, but its a more than trippling from the previous year. These now make so much economic sense sales should at least double each year for the next five years, so they will be far above 1GW by 2017.

    But once people have solar systems powering their lights and phones, and save money as a result, it is hardly likely they will sit back and say “that’s enough”. These systems pay for themselves in 3 months to 2 years, and after that many people will put the money saved aside to buy larger systems that can give them more (or longer) light or run small appliances. Africa will have several GW of off grid solar by 2017, and probably hundreds by 2022, and that is even without factoring in the larger systems being installed for schools, health care clinics etc.

    India has roughly as many people without access to the grid as Africa, almost as much sunlight and they are probably slightly richer on average. Since many of the systems sold in Africa are made in India they have to be at least as cheap there. How only 1GW could be installed in India off grid by 2017 is beyond me.

    Now even if the figure is 10GW, not 1, that will not make much dint in the estimates for coal (particularly since this is off grid, so the competition is pretty indirect), but if one of the estimates can be so badly wrong I am doubtful about trusting the others.

  20. Stephen L., India’s current target is for 10 gigawatts of grid connected solar capacity by 2017 and 20 gigawatts by 2022. (I could have mentioned it earlier but I just assumed no one was paying attention.) The off grid target is only 1 gigawatt by 2017 and 2 gigawatts by 2022. This may not sound like a great deal given the size of India’s off grid population, but even one gigawatt of solar goes a long way when people have no electricity at all and the plan includes one million solar lighting systems, 25,000 solar water pumps, 25,000 solar integrated telecom towers, and 50,000 solar cookers. Of course, apart from these specific economic development projects, off grid solar is pretty much out of the hands of the government and the amount that India will actually end up with is very hard to say. Remember kids, when you need the energy to keep your stereo pumping, solar power is there for you! Even if you have to pay for it yourself.

  21. I made a mistake earlier when I said India imported thin film PV from China. It instead came from a US company, First Solar, which does the bulk of its manufacturing in Malaysia.

  22. @Hermit Again with the aluminium smelters? Honestly, the fact that changes in patterns of energy supply will suit some users more than others is not a big deal.

  23. @Tim Macknay

    My system (5.5 kWh nameplate and 4.5 to 5.0 kWh actual in the brighter 4 to 6 hrs hours of a fully sunny day) turns out to supply enough for all my power needs and those of another equivalent house (if they also had solar hot water like me).

    This is in a house with 4 people. Two parents who try a bit to economise and 2 uni age offspring who use what they want when they want and always forget to turn off things not in use. This of course presupposes the ability to feed in and draw on the grid at need. The grid is my battery bank! Except when it goes down.

    But I nominated the bigger system for someone with a big house (McMansion or “Mausoleum”* as I call them) and who wants to run full ducted air-con to the entire house.

    * Note: I call a certain style of McMansion a “Mausoleum” because their exterior frontages are all pillars and porticos in faux Roman or Greek style and look like… well large mausoleums IMO.

  24. @John Quiggin

    Let us look at Point Henry smelter Victoria as a factual standard.

    “The current power demand of the smelter is 360 MW for a 185,000 tonne annual production capacity, of which approximately 40 per cent is met by the Anglesea power station. The Point Henry smelter, along with the smelter at Portland, use 18 to 25 per cent of Victoria’s electricity production. In March 2010 it was announced that the operators of Loy Yang B power station (Loy Yang Power) had signed a contract with the smelter operators for the supply of electricity to power aluminium smelters at Portland and Point Henry until 2036, the existing power contracts expire in 2014.” – Wikipedia.

    Since Loy Yang A & B use brown coal, something tells me Victoria (currently) is a very stupid place for an aluminium smelter. However, a single 800 m high solar convection tower will generate (on current estimates) 200 MW of power and do so 24/7. So 2 of these towers will power Hermit’s precious aluminium smelters (two!) with power to spare.

    Game, set, match, slamdunk, try, goal and hole in one! Easy peasy! What’s the issue? If you want the aluminium bad enough it can be done.

    “The world’s tallest man-made structure is the 829.8 m (2,722 ft) tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The building gained the official title of “Tallest Building in the World” at its opening on January 4, 2010.” – Wikipedia. A circular cross-section convection tower with no weighty floors and purely bracing and reinforcing is, in “achieving the height with stability” terms, an easier engineering project so just don’t try to tell me it can’t be done technically. The physics and maths also prove the electrical output in theory. The practice will be close to the theory as this is straight hard science. All that will count is the economics and as I said if you want the aluminium bad enough with no CO2e and reliable 24/7 power to achieve drive the smelting then you will pay the price tag.

  25. @Stephen L

    Stephen L,

    The figures for off-grid solar may or may not be low, but they do come from the Indian Government department responsible for renewable energy and they are in fact numbers not just an argument about why they “must” be wrong. Considering the source, I will take them as a working assumption unless somebody comes up with some other credible or authoritative source. Over to you.

    In any case all this stuff about off-grid solar is, for the foreseeable future, all but irrelevant to the climate problem.

    A lot of Indian farmers get free grid electricity. Can’t see them installing PV while that continues. According to this press report, agriculture consumes 25% of India’s electricity, but contributes 5% of the revenue.

    India’s state owned electricity distribution companies have a shed load of debt:

    No doubt partly at least due to political pressure to keep tariffs low and subsidize agriculture. There is also theft and no doubt other issues. The power sector is generally a mess and it seems very likely that all this translates into regulatory pressure to keep wholesale prices low and perhaps too low, which would of course make the likes of Tata vulnerable to unfavorable changes in forex rates as per the linked news item in Prof Q’s piece. I have read other blogs which imply the coal generation is responsible for general mess of India’s power sector, including blackouts – PV will fix it. No kidding. It’s simple populist basic politics, but how true is it?

    It all well and good to claim coal is “unaffordable” but what does that mean? Compared to what? Reality is that if India wants 24/7 electricity it needs a lot more reliable baseload capacity. It can choose some mix of coal, gas, hydro and nuclear. For the “cold on coal” claim to be true, three criteria need to be satisfied:

    1. There is a baseload technology that has significantly lower LCOE, on average, than coal in India.

    2. It is deployable at the required scale and rates. (which very possibly rules out gas, hydro and in the short term nuclear).

    3. Indian government policy will back any such large scale move away from coal.

    None of these issues have been addressed and I’m sorry to say, all I have read is a story about coal bad and renewables nice. In the end, very few people, other than those with a direct financial interest, actually “like” coal but that won’t stop it.

  26. I do feel mildly guilty about drinking from then discarding an aluminium soft drink can. An SA type deposit scheme should go national to help recycle more aluminium. None of the recent non-coal generating technologies can produce power at 3-4c per kwh which is allegedly what the smelters paid before carbon tax. A tonne of raw aluminum takes 15 Mwh electrical input, say $600 worth of electricity.

    The smelters got 94.5% exemption from carbon tax on the grounds of being trade exposed, plus other cash goodies. Apart from the loss of jobs moving the industry offshore may increase global emissions. The new smelter in the UAE won’t have any hydro input or solar I’d imagine. Again I think the answer is the carbon tariff on imports unless the vendor can prove low carbon input.

    Thus Ms Rinehart’s excellent coal could go to India to help power smelters there, along with our bauxite and iron ore. Note Rio’s HiSmelt steel furnace that doesn’t need coking coal was dismantled in Kwinana WA and was to be re-assembled in India. If India is decarbonising it’s clearly not fast enough.

  27. @Hermit

    Hermit, my point was and is that the technology exists now to build 2 thermal convection towers 800 m high each. These would produce 400 mW and produce it 24/7. The smelters in Victoria need 360 mW. Thermal convection towers work at night as well as during the day. I have explained the basic physics in previous posts. I have explained that construction technically is no more difficult (in fact probably easier) than building 800 m tall buildings one of which already exists standing since 2010.

    Thus there is NO reason technically or energetically why it can’t be done. The economics of it comes down to this. If the market is willing to pay enough for the aluminium then the economics of it will work. If currently we are drinking sodas with sugar we don’t need (I do it too from time to time) out of aluminium cans then maybe sugar and alumunium are both currently ridiculously cheap. It wouldn’t hurt our health or the economy if the price of these commodities went up.

  28. @Ikonoclast

    If currently we are drinking sodas with sugar we don’t need (I do it too from time to time) out of aluminium cans then maybe sugar and alumunium are both currently ridiculously cheap. It wouldn’t hurt our health or the economy if the price of these commodities went up.

    Or aluminium production just moves somewhere else where electricity is cheaper. That’s globalization and an example of why the cost of low emission energy is so important in a world where the external costs of emissions are not being levied.

  29. The Solar+wind target would also produce about the same amount of electricity as India’s projected nuclear capacity in 2017 with the completion of reactors currently under construction

    That’s certainly a relevant comparison. It seems likely that, as in India, global solar/wind output will surpass that of nuclear sometime this decade. It’s also notable that India has heavily subsidised nuclear for decades, and anti-nuclear sentiment is minimal and ineffectual – still nuclear has gone nowhere.

  30. @John Quiggin

    India’s nuclear program has been hamstrung by a lack of domestic uranium and problems due to the NPT and it’s weapons program. This has had a number of consequences

    1. It has not had access to foreign light water reactor technology or the option of importing fabricated LWR low enriched uranium fuel. This has been a major obstacle.

    2. It’s current small nuclear capacity is almost all small heavy water reactors which do not require enriched uranium.

    3. It was always recognized that the potential for deploying PHWRs was limited. Hence the very long term Thorium and fast reactor program which has still a considerable way to go.

    The situation is now changed because of access to foreign uranium and PWR technology. The first two Russian built VVER reactors are ready to start up and approval has just been given for the six EPR facility at Jaitapur.

  31. The comissioning of the VVER reactors has been delayed again, so they aren’t quite ready to go. And the price of two new reactors to be built at the same site has doubled, so it looks like some new hamstringing is going on. Something to do with liability. But on the bright side, one reactor will probably start up in January, so fingers crossed they get it going by then.

  32. @Ikonoclast
    I suspect I’ll need to upgrade my system when my two-year old daughter gets old enough to start operating all the appliances herself. I think the term ‘mausoleum’ term is apt.

  33. According to this the target for 2012-13 for solar installations in India is 800MW. 1GW has already been installed. So to meet the lower end of those figures in 2017 rates of installation would have to drop from 2012-2013 (or this year’s figures not be achieved. Seriously? Solar installation rates just flatline even as the price continues to drop?

    Moreover, the article indicates that off grid systems smaller than 1Kw are not counted. Since most systems will be smaller than that – indeed in the early days most will be more like 50w, that makes the data almost meaningless.

  34. @quokka

    I am in favour of carbon tariffs. If overseas smelters are using coal fired power then a few simple sums will tell us how many tonnes of CO2 are being emitted to make each tonne of aluminium ingots. Bung on a carbon tariff at say $50 a tonne of CO2 emissions. That perhaps gives our clean power smelters a chance, if we have any clean smelters that is.

  35. Australia’s cleanest smelter would be in Tasmania, thanks to the isle’s hydroelectric capacity now helped by its increasing wind and solar capacity. And don’t be fooled by the name, the Hydro aluminium plant in NSW is mostly powered by coal. Geelong would have to have the worst aluminium smelter in the world from a greenhouse gas perspective, it’s pretty much impossible for anyone to be doing a worse job than that, with the Portland smelter perhaps being second worst as it presumably sops up some wind and gas power from Heywood connector with South Australia.

  36. Our only hope is that fossil fuels rapidly become uneconomic for a variety of reasons. I say “our only hope” because although what is needed is a statist or dirigist led program to ditch all fossil fuels within 20 years, it is clear this is not going to happen.

    So, the only hope is that fossil fuels rapidly become uneconomic through a combination of factors;

    1. A carbon emissions price.
    2. Dwindling and more difficult to access fossil fuel reserves.
    3. Continued improvements lowering the price of renewable energy.
    4. Public distaste for the fossil fuel economy*.

    * One can perhaps foresee a change where fossil fuels become socially “uncool” to use and a sign that you are a dinosaur from a previous dirty, polluting and thoroughly reprehensible generation.

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