Coal has been a mainstay of Indian energy. It accounts for 63% of India’s energy consumption, and demand is set to grow dramatically over the coming decades. Coal use for electricity generation is projected to grow 2% every year, almost doubling its share of India’s generating capacity by 2030. According to the International Energy Agency, India is likely to become the second-largest consumer of coal, surpassing the United States in the next five years.
Because coal is both cheap and abundant domestically, it may seem like the perfect solution to India’s energy and electricity woes. However, using coal comes with severe health, environmental, and economic effects. As quality of life improves for most Indians on one hand from economic progress, many could be subject to the vagaries of this dirty pollutant. Also, as the world moves closer to a consensus on climate change, using coal at this growing rate may become untenable.
Two recent studies shed light on the huge environmental damage that is done by coal-fired power plants in India. Professor Maureen Cropper and her co-authors at the University of Maryland estimated premature cardiopulmonary deaths associated with air emissions from 89 power plants from all over India. Last week, Professor Cropper presented their analysis in a World Bank seminar. Their study attributes on average 650 deaths per plant per year to directly emitted sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions from coal plants.
Another recent study published by Greenpeace and authored by Sarath Guttikunda and Puja Jawahar presents more dramatic results than the Cropper study. It suggests that in 2011-2012, emissions from Indian coal plants resulted in 80,000 to 115,000 premature deaths and more than 20 million asthma cases from exposure to particulate pollution with an associated cost of $3.3 billion to $4.6 billion.