Column: India’s electricity shortages ease as wind and hydro output rises

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A worker repairs power lines on a pole in Kochi, India, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Sivaram V/File Photo

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LONDON, June 27 (Reuters) - India’s electricity shortages have eased over the last six weeks as renewables generation has increased seasonally and relieved some of the pressure on coal-fired units short of fuel.

In a sign of reduced stress on the network, frequency averaged 50.00 cycles per second (hertz) in May, exactly in line with the operational target, up from just 49.93 Hz in April.

Frequency fell below the minimum threshold of 49.90 Hz just 9.8% of the time in May compared with 32.0% of the time in April, data from the Power System Operation Corporation of India (POSOCO) showed.

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Below-target and falling frequency is a sign that consumption is exceeding generation, causing rotating generators to lose momentum, while above-target and rising frequency signals the opposite.

(Chartbook: https://tmsnrt.rs/3QJGk22)

Grid stability improved even though it supplied a record 136 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in May up from 133 billion kWh in April and 110 billion kWh in the same month a year earlier.

Seasonal increases from hydropower and wind played a critical role improving generation availability and easing the severe power shortages and blackouts evident in March and April.

Wind farms added an extra 6 billion kWh in May compared with March and April while hydro generators added an extra 1-2 billion kWh.

Renewables supplied 23% of system-wide electricity demand in May up from 18% in March and April. (“Monthly operational performance report”, POSOCO, June 24)

As a result, coal-fired, gas-fired and nuclear generators were called on to supply 3-4 billion kWh fewer in May compared with March and April.

Coal stocks held at power plants have edged up to 9 days worth of generation from 8 days at the end of April, but still far below the 15 days in June 2021.

The arrival of the monsoon season should ease pressure further over the next two months by boosting hydro and wind generation even more in July and August, enabling fuel stocks to be replenished.

But low coal stocks compared with prior years mean electricity shortages are likely to re-emerge in September-October, when the monsoon recedes and renewables generation falls, and again in March-April 2023.

India needs to build up coal inventories much faster and develop more generation to meet demand and reduce blackouts in the pre- and post-monsoon seasons or widespread blackouts will occur again.

Related columns:

- India coal stocks under pressure owing to rail bottlenecks (Reuters, May 12) read more

- India risks widespread blackouts this summer (Reuters, April 14) read more

- India's coal and electricity shortages ease (Reuters, Nov. 12) read more

- Beset by coal shortages, India’s power grid struggles to meet demand (Reuters, Oct. 12) read more

John Kemp is a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own

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John Kemp is a senior market analyst specializing in oil and energy systems. Before joining Reuters in 2008, he was a trading analyst at Sempra Commodities, now part of JPMorgan, and an economic analyst at Oxford Analytica. His interests include all aspects of energy technology, history, diplomacy, derivative markets, risk management, policy and transitions.