• Conflicting reports of India’s coal future may be a difference in point of view

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

A meeting of the Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council, an Indian think-tank favoured by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has predicted that coal will continue to form a staple fuel source in the country at least until 2050. Recent studies have predicted that coal will provide 42-50% of India’s energy by 2047, and the meeting heard that emissions reductions and efficiency improvements must be made to make such a scenario less environmentally harmful. (It is unclear from the pv magazine report if that included making coal firing near-zero carbon emissions.) The meeting included discussion of hydrogen and other forms of energy storage, geothermal energy, and ‘nuclear fusion’, albeit in the sense that the sun is a fusion reactor, the energy captured by solar cells. Hydrogen was seen as “the choice of the future”, while there was a feeling that India should avoid lithium-ion batteries (due to a paucity of domestic lithium resources) in favour of emerging technologies such as zinc-bromine redox flow batteries.

The meeting took place prior to the annual Coaltrans India meeting, where the tone was, according to Reuters, much less bullish about coal. Coaltrans India heard that the domestic coal sector is “under siege” and faces a future of limited growth and eventual disbandment. Power purchase agreements for solar power now price electricity lower than that at which existing coal-fired plants can compete with, and investors other than the state are turning away from the fossil fuel.

The contrast in the two stories is perhaps more in tone and point of view than in fact. The surge in renewables is from a relatively low base, and the cost competitiveness of energy storage from renewables (under much higher shares of renewables in the overall energy mix) is still an open question. Coal currently generates something like 71% of electricity in India, meaning that the TIFAC view of coal delivering around half of electricity by 2047 might sit with limited growth in coal-fired capacity at the same time as a robust growth in overall power generation capacity.