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Solutions to India's Coal Crises for the 21st Century

Updated on March 28, 2012

India's Coal Dependence

Pachauri explains the different solutions that India could take in improving their energy efficiency, especially considering the three qualities of sustainable development that Allam Ahmed talked about: being economically efficient, socially acceptable, and environmentally safe. Pachauri takes a closer look at India’s sole use of coal as their main energy source, and, while considering their economical and technological situation, has come up with potential solutions that India could take in order to eventually obtain most of their energy from renewable resources.

Countries have been telling India to ease its’ dependence on coal, but Pachauri brings up a few points of why that is not a plausible path to take. The other countries take this position because the use of coal generates a lot of pollution compared to other energy sources like solar, wind, or wave power. However, they must take into consideration the poor economic situation that India is in.

The first point Pachauri makes is that India really doesn’t consume a large amount of coal relative to its’ population. Even though 80% of the population have access to grid power, only a measly 20% of the rural households actually consume electricity (Pachauri 2). The crammed cities and poor economic situations help contribute to this non-use of electricity. Also, the per capita energy use of India is only 1/12 of Americas’ per capita energy use (Pachauri 3). The major reason for this is because much of India’s population simply does not have the money. Instead of critisizing India for it’s energy use, an efficient option would be to adopt Ahmed’s idea of sustainable development where the richer countries, America and Britian, help the poorer countries, India, because that would be the most efficient way for India to solve their energy crisis (Ahmed 6). India just cannot afford to take the initiatives that other, more wealthy countries are taking.

Although India is one of the largest and most populous countries, it is still very behind in the economic and technological aspects. Because India cannot simply invest in completely new power plants and facilities for renewable energy, they must take different steps to try to diminish its’ use of coal in order to solve the present situation. Their biggest problem dealing with coal is transportation. Since most of the coal mines are on the south-eastern side of India, and because transportation costs a lot of money, something that India doesn’t have a lot of, cities more than 750 kilometers from a coal mine must rely on imported rather than domestic coal (Pachauri 4). Easier transportation would decrease the price of coal, but that would require an expensive transportation system, which is something that India is not prepared to take on right at this moment. However, there are a few steps that India can take.

Pachauri explains specific and measurable options that India can and probably will implement to help its’ energy crisis in the future. He divides the potential solutions into three categories: short term as less than 15 years, medium-term as 15-20 years, and long-term as 20-25 years.

Although there are not any easy starts, Pachauri explains a possible option being to de-nationalize the energy supply industry. Proof of this potential success was when India first nationalized, which, as the Bureau of Industrial Costs recorded, more than doubled the price of coal (Pachauri 4). Opening up to the private sector would decrease prices and increase cash-flow because the potential of profit makes private companies much more efficient than government. This idea of de-nationalization is exactly what Ahmed was describing as necessary for improvement in all three aspects of sustainable development.

The middle-term potential solution that Pachauri suggested was importation of natural gas through a pipeline. However, the big question is with whom do they want to build their pipeline with? Bangladesh and Myanmar are the most attractive options, but one with Iran would require Pakistan’s partnership (Pachauri 7). Bangladesh and Myanmar fear Indian economic domination by selling out their main natural resource, so they are hesitant. And since India and Pakistan have not been on the best terms over the past five decades, it would be difficult to partner with Pakistan. However, if enough major international companies became seriously involved in this venture, the arrangement between Bangladesh and India is very possible (Pachauri 7).

The long term goals are the ones that other countries keep pushing India towards: renewable and sustainable energy sources. This option is not achievable for at least 20-25 years because India simply does not have the immediate capital to invest. However, even though renewables are not used on a large scale, India has proved itself as a leader in the field of renewable energy production. One example is their production of over 1,000 MW of wind power capacity (Pachauri 8). So India is not ignorant of renewable energy; rather, it is just not financially ready to go full-scale yet.

One way the government is trying to make cleaner coal is through the integrated gasification combined cycle (Pachauri 8). It essentially converts coal into a gas to pollute less and so that it can be transported long distances. Again, the issue of transportation needs to be addressed, but at least it has less of an environmental impact, which, according to Ahmed, is one of the three over-arching aspects of sustainable development.

Pachauri takes into account Ahmed’s three ideas of sustainable development when coming up with potential solutions that India could take to reduce the impact that their coal use has on the environment, and unlike the richer countries solely pushing India towards renewable resources, he takes into account the financial and social situation in India, making his solution much more plausible. However, India will need help from the those richer countries; India just has to take a slightly different route in order to become economically efficient, socially acceptable, and environmentally safe. Even though there are no easy solutions right now for India, if countries and cooperations work together, India should be able to move to sustainable energy sources in the next couple decades.

Major Coalfields


Ahmed, A. “Understanding sustainable development and our future challenges.” Unpublished manuscript, University of Sussex, Brighton. 2006.

Pachauri, R.K. “Living with Coal: India’s Energy Policy in the 21st century.” Journal of International Affairs, 53(1) (1999):101-111.


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    • pramodgokhale profile image

      pramodgokhale 5 years ago from Pune( India)

      India is power hungry and so any available sources India has to produce power for industries.Coal is available source but of inferior quality and imported coal from Australia, Indonesia is of high quality but they impose taxes so again it is expensive, Tatas recently put their one coal fired power plant project on hold because they can not afford to import expensive coal.

      India has to search new source of energy and solar and wind are not the solution for heavy load demand .