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Power Shortfall Comparatively Lower Despite Paucity of Coal

Power shortage in India remained lower last month than during the corresponding period in previous years even as six out of 10 thermal power plants were running with coal stocks adequate for less than a week. Officials said this must have happened as utilities did not properly report demand or the plants generated additional power only during the peak period when the demand surged.

According to data provided by the National Load Despatch Centre, peak power shortage hovered between 3,000 mw and 4,500 mw, lower than in previous years, when coal stocks in 60 power plants were not sufficient for even seven days while 30 had stocks that would not last more than four days. Power plants had coal stocks to last just six days on average.

Yet, as many as 23 states reported near zero power supply shortfall. The only state that reported substantial shortfall was Uttar Pradesh, which witnessed a shortage of 2,570 mw on a given day. Total shortfall on that day was 4,434 mw in the state.

Officials of NTPC, India's largest power producer, said they were forced to reduce capacity utilisation of a large number of generating units even as some of the units were shut due to unavailability of coal.

According to a senior official involved in managing power flow in the country, the data which is reported is provided by the power utilities that supply electricity to consumers in their licensed areas. On paper, the evening peak period is the time between 8 pm and 8.30 pm when demand touches its highest during a day.

However, according to the official, the peak period really starts around 6.30-7 pm and continues till midnight every day, the time during which consumers turn their air-conditioners on after returning from work.

Another senior official from Delhi power department said supply shortage is difficult to measure and added that the data showing no supply shortage during peak period could be due to two reasons.

“The utilities may be buying extra power to meet the entire demand just during the official peak period of 8 pm to 8.30 pm. Alternatively, they may have decided not to meet a certain volume of demand entirely. This volume, which is not being met, is therefore not being considered demand during the peak period although consumers are forced to live in the dark,“ said the official, requesting anonymity.

A third official from a power utility explained that measuring power demand can be highly subjective. During a heavy storm, power demand theoretically dwindles simply because the consumers are not in a position to draw the power. At the plant, however, demand may be less because utilities in many states did not buy sufficient power to meet the demand.

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