Bat for development, climate can wait

The New York Times article: ‘Coal set to roar back’ (NYT, April 23, 2021) re-published in DH on the same date seems to be aimed at bringing India and China in line with the pro-climate position in the review meeting in the UK in the next few days.

The article says: “China is by far the largest consumer of coal and is still building coal-fired power plants at home and abroad… China’s coal electricity plants’ capacity grew by a whopping 38 GW in 2020… while the US and Europe consumed most of the coal historically, today it is India and China which account for two-thirds of coal consumption. With the picking up of these economies post-Covid, coal demand is forecast to rise by 9%.”

China has fortified its position by significant contribution in renewable energy (RE), by reducing the cost of solar cells, but without change in the relative share of coal vs RE. Xi has said, in the context of carbon emission for developing countries, “the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities must be upheld”.

India on the other hand has been going gung-ho on renewables, bringing misery to coal-based electricity plants and their unwilling buyers, ie discoms, alike. There is a lot of naïve thinking: We have abundant free sunshine in Rajasthan, so solar must be cheaper. So is wind in places like Kodagu etc. By the same logic, there should be no shortage of oxygen for hospitals, because it is freely available in the air!

It is quite clear that solar and wind can be no match for good old coal-based electricity because the RE is intermittent energy, i.e. it provides only energy; while the coal/storage hydro is continuous energy providing both capacity and energy. The comparison should be of the full cost of renewables without storage capacity with the cost of producing electricity by burning coal, i.e. marginal coal cost.

The original winning bid–levellised cost of Ultra Mega Power Plant’s coal-based electricity at Sasan in Madhya Pradesh was Rs 1.19/kWh including both capacity and energy, being allotted the captive coal mine. At half this price for energy alone, it has to match about 60 paise per kWh.

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