The shortage is linked to higher demand for electricity in the monsoon rains season followed by reduced coal supplies.
Energy Minister Raj Kumar Singh told the Indian Express daily that coal stocks stood at three days. And the shortages could make themselves felt for another six months.
“If you have 40,000-50,000 MW (of thermal capacity) with less than three days of stock, you can’t be secure,” Singh said in an interview.
In India, coal-fired power stations account for nearly 70% of electricity generation and given the sharp increase in world gas prices, demand for coal is also on the rise. India has 135 coal-fired stations in operation and supplies are critically low at many of them.
“I don’t know whether I will be comfortable in the next five-six, four-five months… Normally, the demand starts coming down in the second half of October… when it (the weather) starts cooling… But it’s going to be touch and go,” Singh said.
According to data from the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), quoted by the Reuters news agency, coal stocks at more than 80 % of coal-fired power stations as of the end of September, stood at less than a week. Half of the stations had three days’ stock and 16 stations had no coal at all.
The Indian government promised this week to resolve the issue within three to four days. It pledged to boost shipments by the end of the week to 1.6 million tonnes per day and increase it subsequently to 1.7 million tonnes. Monsoon rains in areas close to coalfields have compounded the problem.
Indian media have reported rolling blackouts in a number of Indian states, some lasting up to more than 12 hours.
China, another large consumer of coal, has encountered similar problems. Restrictions on power supply have been imposed against a background of increased demand as well as plans to proceed with a transition to renewable energy sources.