India’s Uncompromising Commitment to Coal

By Vijay Jayaraj

This week, the UK scrambled to ready its coal plants as wind turbines froze in extremely cold weather. It is no surprise as coal is one of the most reliable, affordable and abundant energy sources in the world.

In fact, coal is still the largest contributor to global power generation. Leaders of Asian countries know this and are not inclined to risk their objective of economic liberty with overreliance on highly volatile and expensive “renewable” technology.

A country soon to become the world’s most populous, India faces a plethora of challenges, and it does not want to add to the troubles of a sometimes-fragile energy system. So it is that strategists are keen on increasing the country’s dependency on coal despite global calls to reduce emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels.

Coal’s Critical Role in 20th Century Poverty Alleviation

Abundant and economical energy is necessary to meet basic needs such as lighting, cooking, and powering appliances that can improve the quality of life for millions of the poor and even prevent early death. Hospitals, schools, water systems and industrial facilities need reliable access to electricity if they are to play a role in alleviating poverty and deprivation.

As a fuel, coal is plentiful and relatively cheap. Coal-fired power plants are a reliable and established technology for generating electricity. Technologies like wind and solar are inherently intermittent and relatively expensive. They rely on machines that have comparatively short life spans and require many times the materials and acreage to generate equivalent amounts of electricity. At best, these so-called green technologies are suitable for limited applications but certainly not for the baseload supplies of large populations.

In Asia, the need for sustained economic growth outweighs fanciful visions of a “carbon-free” utopia, making coal the obvious choice for at least several decades.

Coal Helped India Soar into Prominence; Will Continue to be the Go-To Fuel

India’s gross domestic product grew from $390 billion in 1990 to $2.6 trillion in 2020, representing a compound annual growth rate of 6.7 percent. This was possible only because of the rapid increase in the use of coal for electricity and industries. In 1971, just 50 percent of India’s electricity came from coal. By 2015, the share had grown to almost 76 percent.

This is a particularly steep increase given the concurrent rise in electricity demand from just 34.2 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 1970 to a massive 1,236 billion kWh in 2020. The per capita consumption of electricity grew by around 10 times between 1974 and 2020, from 126 kWh to 1208 kWh, with coal meeting most of this demand.

“India’s coal consumption has doubled since 2007 at an annual growth rate of six percent – and will be the growth engine of global coal demand,” writes Jacob Koshy of The Hindu news outlet. It is because of this coal proliferation that India could supply the industrial sector with power and achieve electrification in all cities and villages by 2017. There simply is no good reason for the country to turn its back on coal.

“China has 1,000 gigawatts of coal power installed capacity. India has 200 gigawatts of coal installed capacity for the same amount of people. The scale of expansion is totally different,” says Aarti Khosla of Climate Trends. India wouldn’t stop scaling up its coal power sector, and it should not.

India’s current subsidies for fossil fuels are nine times more than that for so-called clean energy. “Energy security is my first priority…I will not compromise on the availability of power for this country’s development,” said India’s power minister, R.K. Singh, hinting at an uncompromising stance on coal use.

India expects its power plants to burn about eight percent more coal in the current fiscal year of 2023-2024 even as the country missed its 2022 renewable energy goal by more than 30 percent. As of January 2023, India’s coal production is up by 16.4 percent from the previous year. India’s thermal coal imports went up by 15 percent in 2022. India’s coal ministry has said that it plans to produce more than one billion tons of coal during the year 2023-24.

With all of that, India’s per capita electricity consumption is still 10 times lower than that of people living in countries like the U.S., Canada and South Korea. Indians are just as entitled as people of developed countries to use as much energy as they can produce to achieve the prosperity they deserve.

This commentary was first published at BizPacReview, January 26, 2023, and can be accessed here.

Vijay Jayaraj is a Research Associate at the CO2 Coalition, Arlington, Virginia. He holds a master’s degree in environmental sciences from the University of East Anglia, UK and resides in India.

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Tom Halla
January 28, 2023 6:08 am

The greens really want people in the Third World to cook over dried cow patties.

Reply to  Tom Halla
January 28, 2023 7:08 am

“The greens really want people in the Third First World to cook over dried cow patties.”***

***You qualify for an exemption if your social credit score is “correct” under the terms they decide.

Ron Long
Reply to  pillageidiot
January 28, 2023 9:25 am

pillageidiot, if I reply to this comment will my “social credit score” take a hit? Yes? Never mind.

David Dibbell
January 28, 2023 6:30 am

Good points about the rationale for how India will use coal despite the outlandish calls for “climate” action.

But this statement causes me some concern: “Indians are just as entitled as people of developed countries to use as much energy as they can produce to achieve the prosperity they deserve.”

No. It’s not about entitlement or being deserving.

Rather, it should be more like this: “Indians are just as right as people of developed countries to use as much energy as they can produce to achieve the prosperity they are willing to work for.

Reply to  David Dibbell
January 28, 2023 9:43 pm

EXCELLENT OBSERVATION! Thanks…There are likely many who would have missed it.

January 28, 2023 7:14 am

From your writeup:

“India’s current subsidies for fossil fuels are nine times more than that for so-called clean energy. “Energy security is my first priority…I will not compromise on the availability of power for this country’s development,” said India’s power minister, R.K. Singh, hinting at an uncompromising stance on coal use.”

Could you throw some light on the nine times more subsidy for fossil fuel ? Apparently the above does not seem to be the reality.

Last edited 1 month ago by ugaap
Reply to  ugaap
January 31, 2023 10:18 pm

In developing countries energy sources are frequently subsidized for consumers. People making a tenth of a western average paycheck can’t afford to pay world prices for electricity or gasoline.

January 28, 2023 7:52 am

The only “renewable” sources of energy are coal, gas, oil, hydro and nuclear. Period. Full stop.

Reply to  2hotel9
January 28, 2023 10:12 am

Reliable, not renewable.
Extractive industries may be sustainable but they are not renewable.

For whatever value being “renewable “is. Coppicing the rain forest would be renewable. Still not recommended on environmental grounds.

Reply to  2hotel9
January 28, 2023 10:57 am

and cow pats

B Zipperer
Reply to  2hotel9
January 28, 2023 7:23 pm

The big three sources of energy for the 3rd world poor (mainly for heating & cooking) are
wood, crop residue and dried cow dung.

They all have the same “right” to adequate energy as we do. Preventing them from attaining
reliable, affordable energy is immoral. btw ~ 3 million people worldwide die every year of respiratory diseases due to indoor air pollution from using the Big 3.

I doubt you will get many to agree that FF & nukes are “renewable”.

Reply to  B Zipperer
January 29, 2023 8:09 am

Yes, 3rd world needs gas, oil, coal, hydro and nuclear, just like the rest of the planet does. And yes, all are renewable, even nuclear. Stop letting leftists dictate the meaning of terms, they are morons who hate the human race.

michael hart
Reply to  B Zipperer
January 29, 2023 8:27 am

“I doubt you will get many to agree that FF & nukes are “renewable”.

FF are renewable, but they are probably not being renewed as fast as we are consuming them.

However, I could argue that using fast-breeder technologies, nuclear is better than renewable as it can produce more fissionable fuel than it actually consumes.

January 28, 2023 8:09 am

A bit ironical isn’t it.
People who popullarsed zero now will not accept zero carbon.
What is the world coming to?

January 28, 2023 8:15 am

DTE Energy, that provides my electricity, uses 58*% coal. Used to be 64% coal about 5 years ago. We have these huge coal ships on the Saint ClairRriver from the great lakes to a coal power plant — Belle River Power Plant in St. Clair Michigan — 1395MW.

We’d eat at an expensive restaurant in Saint Clair, on the river in Michigan, and watch the coal freighters going by — Canada was on the other side of the river. The wife would stop talking when a coal freighter would pass by the restaurant because I had to watch it like a little child would do. Aerial photo of a coal freighter:

Aerial view Great Lakes shipping freighter on the St. Clair River in Lake Huron at Port Huron…, Stock Photo, Picture And Rights Managed Image. Pic. L54-3506452 | agefotostock

At the Saint Clair coal plant, there were enormous piles of coal — outdoors, waiting to be burned — not like waiting for the wind or sun to show up. Huge conveyor belts moved the coal from the outdoor piles into the plant.

Daily list of the best climate and energy articles I read is at:
Honest Climate Science and Energy

Reply to  Richard Greene
January 28, 2023 9:49 pm

I realize that it is often an “accepted” term, but, to me (and others I know…including their wives) I believe “the wife” to be derogatory. She is YOUR wife, unless…?

January 28, 2023 8:32 am

Protest in the West is only ever directed at the West. If Ehrlich got his wish and the UK disappeared tomorrow – just like that – there would be no measurable effect in their climate paradigm. None whatsoever.

The greens should have thought it through before industries were relocated to China, India etc I have yet to hear them explain why – when there were local Scottish yards who could provide green jobs to local people, contracts for turbines were given to China and the UAE – many thousands of miles away.

John Hultquist
Reply to  strativarius
January 28, 2023 10:10 am

The greens should have thought it through before industries were relocated to China

After WWII, the phrase “Made in Japan” was on many of the things sold in the USA. Maybe also in other countries, but I don’t know about that.  Another example: Cincinnati Milling Machine Company became an Indian firm, leading to Ferromatik Milacron India Pvt. Ltd.
The outsourcing and relocation of industries did not start with China nor “the Greens.”

Reply to  John Hultquist
January 28, 2023 11:13 am

In the U.K. it was firstly made in Hong Kong, then Japan

Reply to  strativarius
January 28, 2023 11:51 am

….then Taiwan, and more recently, China. All for the sake of achieving a very slightly lower initial price, despite reduced reliability and longevity! Those making purchasing decisions sure have a lot to answer for!

Martin Brumby
Reply to  John Hultquist
January 28, 2023 7:44 pm

I remember, as a little lad at school in 1950s England, our headmaster gave us a talk about some stuff that was being manufactured in Japan. I remember a “Ronsonol” version of a Ronson cigarette lighter and a “Nikon” version of a Zeiss Ikon camera.

How we laughed.

We aren’t laughing now.

michael hart
Reply to  Martin Brumby
January 29, 2023 8:40 am

Yes, as noted above it was “made in Hong Kong” for cheap rubber items, then Japanese cars in the 1970’s during my childhood.

I recall our (Hungarian dentist) neighbor telling us that a car dealer friend told him that the Japanese cars never needed to be returned, while still new, to have faults fixed.
British Leyland was then the nationalised domestic UK car producer. Their products were a joke. Everybody knew it, but it took another 20 years to be acknowledged.

Too late. Margaret Thatcher did at least have the good sense to invite the Japanese into the country to restart quality car manufacturing after the socialist experiment died on its knees.

Joseph Zorzin
January 28, 2023 9:00 am

Vijay, is there much interest in India for nuclear power stations for the long term if not the short term?

Amos E. Stone
Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
January 28, 2023 12:10 pm

India has about 7GW of nuclear power from 22 reactors and are building another 8 currently, which since they are bigger, will add another 6GW. As a proportion of India’s overall electricity production it’s growing at more or less the same rate as other stuff, but it is still only 3-4%. They are in a small club of countries who designed and built their own reactors, but have limited uranium, so they are experimenting with thorium and breeder reactors.

I’m a Brit, so I can see these guys are nobody’s fools. I’ve worked with a load of Indian graduates, and they are going to eat our lunch. Their kids do better than native Brits in school and proportionately they hold better jobs and are less likely to be unemployed. My doctor, dentist and optician are all Indians. Heck, even the Prime Minister is an Indian!

We gave them bureaucracy to slow them down.

Reply to  Amos E. Stone
January 28, 2023 1:08 pm

I lived in Calcutta for 8 years when a teenager and their school system is no joke; sounds like reverse colonialism has kicked in….

Reply to  Amos E. Stone
January 31, 2023 10:29 pm

That’s because their parents act like parents and push their kids to be the best they can be, instead of trying to be their “friend” – Look up – Asian Hard.

Western education and child-rearing are pathetic failures.

January 28, 2023 1:35 pm

Well said.

Reply to  Bob
January 28, 2023 9:52 pm

To whom?

Edward Katz
January 28, 2023 2:14 pm

There’s no justification for the Greens to be urging the developing world to sacrifice their economic growth and poverty alleviation by relying on undependable renewable energies, and Mr. Jayaraj consistently makes this clear in all his commentaries.

January 28, 2023 2:50 pm

They really have no choice!

Gary Pearse
January 28, 2023 4:22 pm

“A country soon to become the world’s most populous, India faces a plethora of challenges, ..”

Coal power will result in increased prosperity AND greatly reduced birthrates, solving a host of India’s other problems. Bangladesh, for example, had GDP growth exceeding 7% a year for over 15 years (double digit a few years before Covid), with the help of expanding coal power. Coincidently
birthrates fell rapidly and by 2021 Bangladeshi mothers averaged only 1.94 births each!!! This is below ‘replacement’ rates-essentially population has peaked and should decline.

If we assisted all poor countries to build coal-fired electricity grids, we probably would quickly level off and decline below current population. This would do more for the planet AND the environment without the pain, suffering, impoverishment, and casualties planned by the perps at the WEF and taken up by mindless heads of state.

Mark Whitney
Reply to  Gary Pearse
January 29, 2023 6:47 am

Government elites can’t just let things happen. If things improved without their meddling people would soon realize that the managers were not needed.
I studied the demographic transition thesis that you describe years ago, but tyrants abhor natural processes and prefer force.

Martin Brumby
January 28, 2023 7:34 pm

Absolutely good for India.

An Energy Minister who seems to care about his country and about the masses of people who live there.

We used to expect our own Ministers to be like that (most of the time, at least.)

Very different to the venal, incompetent swine we are saddled with.

Apologies to pigs offended by this comparison.

Reply to  Martin Brumby
January 28, 2023 9:54 pm

Why apologize to pelosi?

Paul Stevens
January 29, 2023 3:55 am

Says it all:
Indians are just as entitled as people of developed countries to use as much energy as they can produce to achieve the prosperity they deserve.”

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