The prospects of commercial coal mining in India may be dimmer than initially expected because of the expected shift in India’s energy mix from fossil fuel-based power to renewable energy. The rollout of this government reform at a time when the economic outlook remains uncertain amid the Covid-19 pandemic may lead to weak investor sentiment, a report by credit ratings agency ICRA said.
The domestic coal demand is estimated to increase at a modest compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.9% between FY2021 and FY2027, ICRA estimated. This is much lower than the CAGR of 5.2% registered between FY2013 and FY2020. Given Coal India’s ambitious target to reach 1 billion tonne coal production by FY2024, private commercial miners would face stiff competition in gaining a foothold in the domestic market.
“In a market, where an overwhelming majority of the domestic supply is controlled by Coal India and Singareni Collieries, affordability, dependability and consistency in coal quality would remain critical drivers that would determine if the existing coal customers decide to partly shift their sourcing to private commercial coal miners," Jayanta Roy, Senior Vice-President & Group Head, Corporate Sector Ratings, ICRA, said. “Experienced players, who have the knowhow of efficiently operating a coal mining business, stand a better chance in making a dent in the market share of the existing players. Over the long-term, we believe that coal consumers are likely to benefit from increased competition in the domestic coal mining industry."
Around 94-95% of Coal India’s overall production comes from opencast mines, having attractive stripping ratios, which have an inherent cost advantage over their peers. Consequently, the operating cost for Coal India’s opencast mines reportedly stood at a competitive ₹ 833 per tonne in FY2019. Moreover, out of Coal India’s 582 million tonne (mt) of despatches in FY2020, around 89% has been supplied under long-term fuel supply agreements (FSAs) where the realisations remain very competitive. Given this cost competitiveness, as well as the arrangements already available to deliver coal to clients’ plants, threats to any loss in Coal India’s market share in the FSA segment remains low in ICRA’s view; consequently the company would continue to dominate the sector in the foreseeable future. However, the geology of the mines belonging to The Singareni Collieries Company Limited remains less favourable, resulting in their operating costs being more than double that of Coal India. Consequently, vulnerability from increased competition remains much higher for Singareni Collieries, whose notified coal prices have an average premium of 40% - 125% over Coal India’s notified prices for various grades of coal.
In FY2020, India imported 243 mt of coal from the seaborne market which entailed a hefty import bill of approximately US$ 21 billion. Out of this, around 52 mt was coking coal imports, which would be difficult to replace, given its limited domestic reserves. The balance 191 mt of imports was contributed by thermal coal, of which India has abundant reserves.
In this regard, Roy added, “India’s low-grade thermal coal imports stood at an estimated 110 mt in FY2020, and its import substitution with domestic coal remains a potential opportunity for private commercial miners. For the balance 75-80 mt of high-grade thermal coal imports, options to partly substitute such imports by supplying washed coal to the non-regulated sector also remains a potential area of growth for private commercial miners. Apart from import substitution, increasing market presence in the seaborne export market, and faster adoption of coal-gasification technologies may be other potential avenues of growth for private commercial coal miners."