The international trade in steam (thermal) coal is a major source for electricity generation. It turns out that the new kid on the block is Indonesia. According to the World Coal Association, Indonesia overtook Australia in 2012 (the last year for which they offer data) as the largest coal exporter. In 2012 the total international shipments of steam coal were 1.142 Billion tons. This is 1/6th of the total world consumption.

According to the WCA, "transportation costs account for a large share of the total delivered price of coal". Here are the import figures, by country:

Top Coal Importers (2012e)

Total Steam Coking

PR China 289Mt 218Mt 71Mt
Japan 184Mt 132Mt 52Mt
India 160Mt 123Mt 37Mt
S. Korea 125Mt 94Mt 31Mt
C. Tapei 64Mt 56Mt 8Mt
Germany 45Mt 36Mt 9Mt
UK 45Mt 40Mt 5Mt

The figures for India are notable because the country has been importing more and more of all forms of energy. The U.S. Energy Information Agency had a report on the question in August. Here is the section on coal:

Coal is India's primary source of energy (equaling 44% of total energy consumption), and the country ranked as the third-largest global coal producer, consumer, and importer of coal in 2012. Despite its significant coal reserves, India has experienced increasing supply shortages as a result of a lack of competition among producers, insufficient investment, and systemic problems with its mining industry. Although production has increased by about 4% per year since 2007, producers have failed to reach the government's production targets. Meanwhile, demand grew more than 7% annually over the past five years with the rise of electricity demand and lower power generation from natural gas and hydroelectricity as a result of recent supply disruptions. Because power plants rely so heavily on coal, shortages are a major contributor to shortfalls in electricity generation and consequent blackouts throughout the country. Because coal production cannot keep pace with demand, India has met more of its coal needs with imports. Net coal import dependency has risen from practically nothing in 1990 to nearly 23% in 2012. India imports thermal coal for power generation from Indonesia and South Africa. The steel and cement industries are also significant coal consumers. India has limited reserves of coking coal, used for steel production, and imports large quantities of coking coal from Australia.

So, the rupee price on steam coal from Australia is not really very relevant to the question of power generation in India. Mea culpa.


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