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Coal clock ticking faster than assumed

New Delhi, Dec. 25: India is likely to run out of usable coal reserves in about 45 years and not 200 years as has been widely assumed, a non-government energy think tank has said in a report on India’s energy security.

The report from The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi, has called for new policy initiatives on renewable energy, pointing out that the government itself has downgraded its estimation of useful coal resources to about four decades.

Geological studies have estimated that India has about 267 billion tonnes of coal, including 105 billion tonnes of proven reserves — leading to expectations that the resources would last for more than a century and perhaps up to 200 years.

“It’s a myth that India has a virtually unlimited supply of coal,” said Rajendra Pachauri, director-general of Teri. “Much of our coal is so deep that it cannot be mined. We have been fed exaggerated figures.”

While coal currently provides about 60 per cent of India’s total energy requirements, the country’s import of coal is likely to rise in the coming years. The figure could touch 1,300 million tonnes per year by 2030 if steps are not taken to reduce dependence on coal, according to the Teri report that was submitted to the government earlier this year. The import could be restricted to 200 million tonnes through initiatives on renewable energy.

The report has called for an aggressive promotion of solar lanterns to replace traditional kerosene lamps in villages, solar rooftop generators to replace backup diesel generators in India’s cities, and decentralised community solar stations.

It has recommended that India aim to exhaust its coal reserves in the next 30 years and any new coal-based thermal power capacity be limited to a level that is based on available domestic reserves.

The Indian government had earlier this year announced a plan to add 20,000MW of solar capacity by 2020, but the Teri report has cautioned that this “may not serve India’s needs”.

India has an installed capacity of about 15,000MW but its energy shortages, estimated to be about 10 per cent during 2007-08, are expected to rise rapidly because of increasing demand and limited pace of adding capacity.

One in two Indians still depends on firewood, animal dung or agricultural residues to meet even cooking energy needs.

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