Coal imports rise to a six-month high in May 2024

India’s thermal coal imports continued to rise for the sixth consecutive month in May 2024 with cargoes hitting a six-month high as thermal power plants (TPPs) stocked up on the critical commodity anticipating a rise in power demand due to high summer temperatures.

According to data from energy intelligence firm Kpler, the country’s imports of thermal coal, largely consumed by the power sector, rose almost 6 per cent month-on-month (m-o-m) to 16.99 MT last month. However, the cargoes were down by almost 4 per cent on an annual basis.

“Indian thermal coal imports climbed to a six-month high of 16.99 MT in May, although still down slightly y-o-y. This brought a run of eight consecutive months of annual growth to an end,” Kpler’s Lead Major Dry Bulks Analyst, Alexis Ellender told businessline.

Summer demand

The country’s power demand has been growing at almost 10 per cent on an annual basis, the uptick in consumption led by growing industrial and commercial base as well as increasing household consumption.

Rising temperatures are also fuelling the demand for more electricity. For instance, the country’s peak power demand met during the day rose to a record 250 GW on May 30 as intense heat waves parched lands across north, northwestern and central India resulting in a higher requirement for cooling. On May 29, the demand had hit 246 GW.

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Thermal power plants reported a plant load factor (PLF), or capacity utilisation of 77.84 per cent in May 2024 against 73.64 per cent in May 2023.

Power generation was higher by 12 per cent to 43,332.91 gigawatt hour (GWh).

“Hot, dry weather has been supporting thermal coal demand. However, near-record thermal coal stockpiles, strong domestic production growth, and the early arrival of monsoon rains are now expected to slow the pace of imports,” Ellender said.

Imports to weaken in June

The ‘above normal’ monsoon rains forecast by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) is expected to replenish reservoirs and lift hydro power output to the detriment of thermal generation. “There has also been a rise in gas-fired power generation, although it remains a very small part of India’s overall power mix,” he added.

“We expect India’s thermal coal imports to ease lower m-o-m in June, although they are likely to still be higher y-o-y as domestic coal shipments slow due to the rains. Imports in the July-September quarter are expected to be down on April-June, but still higher y-o-y as India’s underlying power demand increases,” Ellender added.

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