India wants to cut power from at least 81 coal-fired power plants for 4 years

India plans to cut electricity from at least 81 coal-fired power plants over the next four years, the federal energy ministry said in a letter, with the aim of replacing expensive heat generation with cheaper green energy sources.

The plan aims to maximize the potential of green energy and reduce costs, according to a letter sent to senior energy department officials from state and federal governments, but will not involve closing old and expensive power plants. India has 173 coal-fired power plants.

“Going forward, thermal power plants must operate at a minimum technically to accommodate cheaper renewable energy when it becomes available,” the minister stressed in a letter dated May 26.

India faced a crippling electricity crisis in April, when a rapid increase in electricity demand sparked a coal rush, forcing the country to back away from plans to cut thermal coal imports to zero.

The increase in peak electricity consumption at night, when solar power is not available, has made the gradual cessation of coal-fired generation a major challenge. The addition of alternative sources such as nuclear power and hydropower is also slow.

India is the world’s second largest consumer, producer and importer of coal, and this fuel accounts for nearly 75% of annual electricity production.

The world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases is currently reaching 37% of the green energy target by the end of 2022.

India’s current electricity crisis could have been avoided if its target of installing 175 GW of renewable energy had been met, think tank Climate Risk Horizons said in a report published in May.

“Additional generation of solar and wind power … will allow power plants to keep their coal inventories down for peak nighttime periods,” said Climate Risk Horizons.

The energy minister’s plan to reduce coal generation when renewable sources become available could also ease the pressure on logistics. India’s electricity crisis has been exacerbated by a shortage of trains to transport coal.

India expects plans to cut power generation by 58 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) from 81 power companies to save 34.7 million tonnes of coal and reduce carbon emissions by 60.2 million tonnes, according to the letter. (Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan; editing by Toby Chopra and Jane Merriman)

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