Thursday, July 7, 2011

Coal Story-The Dark Side

Government has promised to provide electricity to every household in coming few years. According to their roadmap, they are to install 800,000 MW of power production units with 70% of total production coming from coal based plants. Now, when I am writing this article, India’s total power production from coal based plants stands at 80,000 MW through hundreds of plants distributed across the country. India’s increased stress on coal based plants has a little, if not full (though some reports say otherwise), inspiration from China’s power policy where a new coal based plant was commissioned every 15 days for the last two years.


But what policy makers of India are trying to ignore in their resolution to generate 560,000 MW from coal, are the increased challenges at social and environmental fronts. Increased population and industrialisation are already demanding large share of land for housing, industry and infrastructure. Apart from these, we need fertile land to feed and provide employment to our giant population. Problems like these make it difficult to acquire land for plants and their support systems. India’s thermal power plants are already facing shortage of coal supply. Adding to these is the problem of transportation of coal from mines/ports. A rough estimate says that one 40 wagon train full of coal is needed to run a 220 MW production unit for a day. Now, imagine the load on railways if 560,000 MW has to be produced. And aren’t we forgetting that coal reserves are bound to last for some decades only? What will happen after that?

There are some other areas too where we could derive inspiration from China viz. the pollution from coal based plants. A recent survey conducted in China declared 50% of their river water unfit for human consumption. Prior to Beijing Olympics, China took several steps to reduce environmental pollution. Those steps included decommissioning one power plant per month in Beijing’s nearby areas. These plants emit greenhouse gases. Increasing forest cover is the most efficient method to curb the problems arising from Greenhouse gases. But unfortunately percentage of land under forest cover has only decreased every year. If we were to believe a report titled,” Coal Combustion: Nuclear resource or danger” by Alex Gabbard, coal based plant exposes people of neighbourhood areas more to nuclear radiations than a nuclear power plant does, provided that the nuclear power plant abides by the government regulations. Global warming has increased sea level and coast lines are receding fast. Unexpected weather conditions are estimated and experienced in last few years.

These days, renewable sources like solar, small hydroelectric plants, and biogas based plants are not efficient enough to be connected to grids. Though, the dreadful future predictions have accelerated research in these areas but a lot more is expected than what is being done. Warning bell is ringing. Hope we respond to it fast.
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