New Delhi: Demand for coal in India will increase despite a massive expansion of the nation’s renewable energy capacity and drive for energy efficiency, coal secretary Anil Swarup said.

The low per capita power consumption in the country (of about 1,000 kilowatt hours) indicated immense potential for coal demand to go up, Swarup said on Tuesday.

“Our per capita power consumption is comparable to what was the case in the late 19th century or in early 20th century in the US. This offers an opportunity for growth," Swarup said at the 6th Coal Summit organized by the India Energy Forum, a body working in the energy sector.

State-owned Coal India Ltd (CIL) produced 536 million tonnes of coal in 2015-16, an annual increase of 8.5%. Coal is an affordable, accessible and reliable fuel, said the official.

The government is trying to spur demand for coal as it is cheaper and abundantly available, unlike natural gas for which the country is dependent on imports. One way of increasing coal demand is to replace power generation sets that use diesel.

“India still produces 40,000 megawatts (MW) of power from diesel generators which cost 11-12 per unit of power, pollutes more than coal and uses up foreign exchange," said Swarup. The government is also in talks with Bangladesh for exporting coal.

State-run Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) is setting up two thermal power plants of 660 megawatts (MW) each for the Bangladesh-India Friendship Power Co. (Pvt.) Ltd, an equal joint venture between India’s NTPC Ltd and Bangladesh Power Development Board.

At present, 61% of the country’s 304 gigawatt (GW)-power generation capacity is coal based. The capacity of grid- connected diesel-based power generation is less at 918 MW compared to the large number of diesel sets used by commercial establishments and industrial units.

Anil Razdan, an energy consultant and former secretary in the ministry of power, said one way of boosting per capita consumption of power is to move away from petrol and diesel for automobile movement. “We have to generate more power and use it for locomotion to reduce oil imports. Oil prices could firm up in the future considering the agreement between Russia and Saudi Arabia to find ways of stabilising the oil market," said Razdan.