Thermal power generation set to expand six times

What it means

By Ankur Paliwal
Published: Saturday 01 October 2011

Thermal power generation in India is set to increase manifold shows an analysis of data from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF). The country’s total thermal capacity as of April 2011 is 113,000 MW. This capacity is proposed to be increased to 701,820 MW, which is six times the present capacity. The proposed capacity addition is also three times the capacity addition requirement projected for 2032. As India's energy demand grows there seems to be no cheaper alternative to coal-fired thermal plants. The large number of thermal power plants proposed will put pressure on critical common property resources like rivers, lakes, forests, agricultural land, gas and coal. Pollution is another concern which needs to be looked into. A fact file:

Existing capacity

113,559 MW: total installed thermal capacity in India as on April 30, 2011

image   Note: the break-up given in the pi chart does not add up to 113,559 MW. The slight discrepancy is owing to two seperate documents being for these figures; the fuel-wise and ownership-wise break-up was different in the reports referred

Proposed capacity addition

192,913 MW: capacity of power plants given clearance; 87 per cent of these power plants will be from coal-fired
508,907 MW: thermal power plants at various stages of clearance; of these 84 per cent are coal-based
701,820: total proposed capacity addition

Projected capacity addition exceeds target

230,000 MW more thermal power would be required by 2032, according to the Integrated Energy Policy (IEP) of the Planning Commission (2006) estimate. The capacity of the thermal power plants already given clearance add up to almost twice the capacity addition target of 100,000 MW for the 12 th Five Year Plan.

Location of plants granted environment clearance


Power plants will be clustered

Just 30 districts in the country will have more than half of the proposed plants. Their capacity will add up to about 380,000 MW. Fifteen districts have plants with capacity totalling 10,000 MW or more. Districts Janjgir-Champa and Raigarh in Chhatisgarh have the highest concentration of proposed thermal power plants in the country—30,470 MW and 24,380 MW respectively, followed by Nellore in Andhra Pradesh with 22,700 MW.

Several of these districts adjoin each other, and hence the real concentration of power plants is even higher than what the district-wise figures reveal. For example, the districts of Rewa (17,820 MW), Singrauli (15,240 MW), Sonbhadra (7,638 MW), Sidhi (5,240 MW) and Allahabad (5,280 MW) are clustered together and will produce 51,218 MW. There are several other such clusters as well.

Ownership status of existing thermal power plants


Ownership status of proposed thermal power plants given environment clearance


Power plants in the pipeline


Why thermal power expansion is a matter of major concern


Given that the planned thermal power capacity in the pipeline is far more than required, it needs to be seen if these plants serve ‘public purpose’, a necessary condition for acquiring land under the Land Acquisition Act.

Water requirement:

Of the 72 per cent proposed inland thermal power plants, close to 50 per cent are concentrated in four river basins, namely, the Ganga (33,255 MW), the Godavari (16,235 MW), the Mahanadi (14,595 MW) and the Brahmani (6534 MW). Water withdrawal by thermal plants, especially a large number of plants in the basins/sub-basins, have the potential to lead to intense conflicts as these rivers or basins also meet the needs of local communities.

Coal requirement:

Close to 85 per cent of the projects in the pipeline are coal-based. As noted by the Mid-Term Appraisal (MTA) of the 11th Five Year Plan, coal production in the country is falling short of projections. MTA has revised the estimate for annual coal production from 680 million tonnes to 629.91 million tonnes, increasing the need for imports from 51million to 83.33 million tonnes. What’s more, MTA projects that the gap between demand and supply, and hence the import dependence, is likely to be much higher by the end of the 12th Five Year Plan, necessitating imports to the tune of 230 million tonnes. Thus, there is little scope for optimism about the possibility of meeting domestic needs to the tune of 2 billion tonnes per annum.


Sulphur di-oxide: It is one of the major pollutants from coal-based power plants. Flue Gas Desulphurisation (FGD), which is used to capture and remove SO2 is not mandatory for coal-based power plants in India.

Ash disposal: Disposal of ash from coal plants has been a major problem in the past, and will only aggravate with increasing capacity. The policy of reuse of ash has been in place since 1999, but flyash utilisation has been lagging. For years, ash has been disposed of either in ash ponds in the form of slurry, or in ash dumps in dry form.

Mercury: While mercury emissions from plants are likely to have serious implications, there are neither standards nor limits set for such emissions from power plants.

Courtesy: Prayas energy group discussion paper on thermal power plants on the anvil

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