By Sudarshan Varadhan
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's coal-fired power generation capacity is expected to rise by 22.4% in three years, the federal power ministry's chief engineer said on Wednesday, potentially neutralising its efforts to cut emissions by boosting adoption of renewable energy.
India, the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, saw its annual coal demand rise 9.1% to nearly 1 billion tonnes in the year ended March 2019. Coal demand from utilities accounted for over three-quarters of total consumption.
"Capacity by 2022 is likely to be 238 gigawatts (GW) in terms of coal-based generation," Ghanshyam Prasad, chief engineer at India's ministry of power said at the India Coal Conference on Wednesday.
The International Energy Agency expects India to become the second largest coal consumer behind China early next decade.
Electricity demand in the country rose 36% in the seven years to April 2019 while coal-fired generation capacity during the period grew by 74% to 194.44 GW, according to the Central Electricity Authority (CEA).
An increase in coal-fired power generation capacity would be bad news for India's cities, 14 of which feature in the World Health Organization's 20 most polluted in the world.
Thermal power companies account for 80% of all industrial emissions of particulate matter, sulfur and nitrous oxides in India.
Prasad said the growth rate in thermal capacity had outpaced electricity consumption over the last few years, resulting in stranded utility assets across the country.
"But this doesn't mean we will not require (more) coal-fired plants in the future. With the kind of growth we are expecting, the requirement for these power stations will be there" he said.
India's power consumption has slowed to 3.6% during the year ended March 2019, the fourth straight fiscal year of decline, according to the CEA.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ambition to make India a $5 trillion economy by 2024 and turn the country into a manufacturing hub will require industries to have access to continuous and dependable power supply.
"If we have to meet demand and address the intermittencies we have with solar and wind, we have no choice but to keep depending on coal-based generation in the near future," he said.
Most of the capacity addition is likely to come from utilities owned by the state and federal governments, government officials said.
State-run NTPC Ltd, India's largest electricity generator, wants to increase its coal-fired capacity to 85 GW by 2032 from 47.3 GW currently, S.D. Prasad, chief general manager at NTPC, said in a presentation at the conference.
"We will be operating new capacity of up to 5 GW a year from now," Prasad told Reuters.
(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by Nidhi Verma and Jan Harvey)