Coal and Mining Sector

Explained: Coal isn’t Easy to Exclude from Sustainable Development

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Flue-Gas Desulphurisers (FGDs) , Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC)

Mains level: India's energy mix

coal

Central Idea

  • Globally, 80% of energy comes from fossil fuels like oil, coal, and gas. In contrast, renewable sources like solar and wind contributed only 2.4% in 2022.
  • India, with its energy supply per capita well below the global average, faces the dual challenge of meeting growing energy demands and pursuing sustainable development.

Need for Electricity Security

  • Stable and Affordable Power: Ensuring a reliable electricity supply that meets increasing demands at an affordable cost is crucial.
  • Renewables’ Minor Role: Despite India’s significant potential for renewable energy, it made up only a small portion of the energy mix in 2022.
  • Coal’s Predominance: In FY 2022-2023, coal-fired thermal power plants (TPPs) generated 74.3% of India’s electricity, driven by escalating demand and the need to support major industries.

Balancing Emissions and Development

  • India’s Global Emission Share: India’s cumulative emissions from fossil fuels and industry account for just 3.3% of the global total, highlighting its role in global development.
  • Sustainable Development Imperative: Catering to the energy needs of 17% of the world’s population, India must ensure that sustainable development is more than a slogan.

Challenges and Strategies

  • Dependency on Critical Battery Materials: Most materials for grid-scale battery storage are controlled by a few countries, posing energy security risks. Cost-effective batteries are expected post-2030.
  • Efficiency and Nuclear Expansion: India needs to improve TPP efficiency, expand nuclear energy, and enhance pumped storage to integrate more renewables.

Coal’s Role in Electricity

  • Future Projections: India’s national grid could absorb more renewable electricity by 2031-2032, but cost differences with coal-fired TPPs pose challenges.
  • Domestic Coal Dependence: With 96% of coal for TPPs sourced domestically, coal capacity in India is expected to grow significantly.

Concerns of Coal Transport

  • High Ash Content: Indian coal’s high ash content causes erosion and performance issues in TPPs.
  • Transportation Issues: Long-distance transport of unwashed coal strains transportation systems and raises environmental concerns.
  • Coal Washing: Requiring miners to supply only washed coal to TPPs over 500 km away can reduce emissions and pollution.

Flue-Gas Desulphurisers (FGDs) Dilemma

  • Sulphur Emissions: Despite Indian coal’s lower sulphur content, tall stacks and weather conditions lead to sulphur dioxide emissions.
  • Climate and Cost Implications: Installing FGDs in TPPs increases coal consumption, reduces efficiency, and requires significant investment.

Way forward

  • Advanced Technologies: Supercritical and Ultra-Supercritical technologies can lower carbon emissions.
  • IGCC for Carbon Capture: Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plants can capture CO2, aiding in low-carbon electricity generation.
  • Government Incentives: Promoting IGCC or Advanced Ultra-Supercritical Technology (AUSC) before 2030 can foster low-carbon initiatives.

Conclusion

  • The challenge of global warming arises from all fossil fuels, not just coal.
  • The principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” should guide global climate change efforts.
  • India’s journey towards low-carbon development is essential.

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