February and March, being the last two months of the financial year, are usually when incremental coal stocks build up at power plants, which helps in meeting fuel supply in the summer months.
The IMD has forecast above normal maximum temperature in some parts in the coming summer.
While the current coal stocks at plants are higher than a year ago, there has been minimal increase in February and in so far March, which was not anticipated, a senior government official said.
The coal ministry had aimed for 45 million tonnes of stock at plants by March end. As of March 8, total stock at plants was at 33.7 million tonnes.
February 2023 began with a domestic coal stock of 31.5 million tonnes and imported stock of 1.76 million tonnes at power plants and ended at 31.69 million tonnes and 1.83 million tonnes, respectively, which shows marginal stock growth.
With only a few weeks left for the financial year to close, the target may be difficult to meet, two government officials said.
Total coal stocks may at best reach 35-36 million tonnes at plants by the end of March, one of the officials said. Though this will be much higher than last year’s closing stock at plants at 25.6 million tonnes.
Steps to ensure stocks at plants during summer months and sufficient power generation capacity have intensified. Power minister RK Singh met with senior officials from power, coal, and railway ministries on Tuesday to check the preparations for the coming months.
“The current situation may be concerning but not alarming and measures are being taken to avoid any stress in the supply chain in coming months,” the other official said.
Coal mine pitheads across the country currently have around 64 million tonnes but capacities of transport cannot be stretched beyond a limit at short notice for reaching power plants, said officials.
Efforts are on to increase supply of railway rakes for transport of coal, ministries concerned said last week.
The railway ministry will provide 418 rakes to different subsidiaries of Coal India and captive mines and will also increase the number of rakes.
Hydro power plants run at lesser capacity between January and April because of flow and quantum of water. Solar and wind power are available at certain times during the day, but the evening peak rests mainly on thermal power plants, which forms the base load.
Coal-based plants form 50% of the total power generation capacity in the country, followed by solar at 15.5% and large hydro at 11.4%.
In April-May last year, coal shortage was witnessed at many power plants as peak demand reached in April at 211 GW, despite closing stock at plants at 25.6 million tonnes as of March end 2022.
To avoid a repeat of the situation in upcoming summer months with even higher peak demand in 2023, the target for coal stock at plants was raised. The power ministry in January also asked coal-based generators to start importing 6% of required fuel.