Air pollution mortality from India’s coal power plants: unit-level estimates for targeted policy

Kirat Singh, Tapas Peshin, Shayak Sengupta, Sumil K. Thakrar, Christopher W. Tessum, Jason D. Hill, Inês M.L. Azevedo, Stephen P. Luby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Air pollution from coal-fired electricity generation is an important cause of premature mortality in India. Although pollution-related mortality from the sector has been extensively studied, the relative contribution of individual coal-fired units to the fleet-wide mortality burden remains unclear. Here, we find that emissions from a small number of units drive overall mortality. Units producing just 3.5% of total generation and constituting less than 3% of total capacity result in 25% of annual premature mortality from coal-fired generation. This is a direct consequence of the 200-fold variation that we find in the mortality intensity of electricity generation across units. We use a detailed emissions inventory, a reduced complexity air quality model, and non-linear PM2.5 concentration-response functions to estimate marginal premature mortality for over 500 units operational in 2019. Absolute annual mortality ranges from less than 1 to over 650 deaths/year across units, and the mortality intensity of generation varies from under 0.002 to 0.43 deaths/GWh. Our findings suggest the potential for large social benefits in the form of reduced PM2.5-related premature mortality in India if the highest mortality intensity units are prioritized for the implementation of pollution control technologies or accelerated retirement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number064016
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • India
  • air pollution
  • coal-fired electricity
  • energy transition
  • externalities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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