High temperatures in parts of India have pushed electricity demand to near-record levels in recent weeks, raising concerns about new strains on power supplies in the summer.
Peak electricity demand reached 211 gigawatts in January, close to a record high last summer as heavy industry bounced back from pandemic curbs and the population faced sweltering conditions that broke a 122-year heat record.
Over the past week, temperatures in some regions were as much as 11°C above normal, prompting India’s Meteorological Department to advise farmers to monitor wheat and other crops for signs of heat stress.
The unusually early onset of warmer weather – and predictions that power consumption will rise as irrigation pumps and air conditioners are cranked – is fueling concerns that the country’s energy grid will come under strain again after two straight years of disruptions.
Power stations using imported coal have already been ordered to run at full capacity for three months during the summer season to help avoid blackouts and ease pressure on domestic coal supplies. Electricity demand could reach a new high of 229 gigawatts in April, according to the Department of Energy.
“The way the temperature is rising – it is quite unusual in February – the situation is becoming a concern for us,” said Bhanwar Singh Bhati, energy minister in Rajasthan, where power supply is already being rationed to homes and farmers. “Electricity demand may increase 20% to 30% compared to last summer. There is no other option than to cut off the power supply.”
Rajasthan is a hub of solar energy but can struggle to provide sufficient power during the summer months if there are delays in receiving coal from mines in other regions.
Coal accounts for more than 70% of India’s electricity generation, and stockpiles at power stations are currently well below the 45 million tonne target the government had asked for at the end of March.
According to Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, director general of meteorology at the Meteorological Department of India, the current high temperatures in March and May may not necessarily be a sign of extreme weather. “It’s normal to be excited when you get temperatures like that in the month of February,” he said.
India’s ability to meet its summer energy needs will also be largely determined by efforts to ensure that enough coal is extracted and transported, said Pratap Keshari Deb, energy minister of Odisha, one of the largest producers of the fuel nation.
When the coal supply is secured, “everything will fall into place,” he said.
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