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COP26 commitments: India likely to halt new coal-based power units

India is mulling a proposal to prohibit the construction of new coal-fired power plants as it works out a plan to meet its COP26 obligations.

According to persons familiar with the situation, an expert committee assigned by the Union power ministry to update the National Electricity Policy (NEP) has advised that no additional coal-based capacity be considered. According to its recommendations, replacement of ageing coal-fired units should only be undertaken when it is “convincingly shown that it is not feasible to meet forecast demand from substitute non-fossil fuel sources,” according to one of the persons familiar with the information.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated India’s goal to reach net-zero emissions by 2070 and 500 GW of installed energy capacity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030 during the UN Climate Change Summit COP26 in Glasgow last month.

The expert committee’s conclusion is a significant departure from the power ministry’s previous position that the country could increase capacity by using fossil-fuel sources because they are still a cheap source of electricity.

According to a senior government official, the expert committee’s report, which was submitted in the last week of October, is still being considered. The ministry will send the draught policy to stakeholders for feedback once it is completed, he added.

After consulting all stakeholders, including states, the committee, led by Gireesh Pradhan, former chairman of the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission, formulated its recommendations. The National Electricity Policy, which was last revised in 2005, establishes rules for the most efficient use of resources such as coal, natural gas, nuclear materials, hydro, and renewable energy sources. The Electricity Act stipulates that it be reviewed on a regular basis.

“With increased renewable energy penetration, over 60 GW of thermal capacity under development, and an average thermal PLF (plant load factor) of roughly 55 percent, we don’t need any more thermal,” said Ashok Khurana, director general of the Association of Power Producers. “As demand for electricity rises, the primary priority should be to bring stranded coal and gas plants online.”

According to the people described above, the committee has recommended that coal-based capacity be replaced solely with technology that is flexible in ramp-up and ramp-down and has greater efficiency rates.

Decarbonisation of the power grid is touted as one of the policy’s top aims, with inefficient units being retired and existing coal-fired plants being retrofitted to allow for flexible generating ramp-up and ramp-down.

Coal-fired plants take many hours to attain the required output and cannot be immediately dialled back if demand reduces. Hydro and gas-based projects are considered flexible in generation.

In addition, the committee recommends that inefficient generating units with a heat rate of more than 2700 Kcal per kWh be removed by March 31, 2023.