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Subsidy not enough, Delhi must rethink its appetite for power

columns Updated: Jul 21, 2014 13:28 IST
Shivani Singh
Shivani Singh
Hindustan Times

Delhi’s struggle for power, it is hard to find the key differentiators. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) began spadework for the next elections with the announcement of a `260-crore subsidy for the low and mid-segment power consumers in the Delhi Budget presented in Lok Sabha last week.

Both BJP and AAP had promised slashing of power bills by 30% and 50%, respectively, in their 2013 election manifestos. AAP enforced it almost as soon as it came to power. But the subsidy expired in less than two months after the Arvind Kejriwal government resigned.

A day before the Budget, the Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission raised the tariff last week but offset the increase by withdrawing the fuel surcharge till November this year. The subsidy brought down the bills by 29% for those consuming up to 200 units and 13% for those consuming 200-400 units.

The down-and-out Congress found reasons to feel smug because the power subsidy announced by the Centre was nothing but a continuation of what Sheila Dikshit had put in place in 2013. Now, who would take the credit for the slashed power bills is anybody’s guess. But in the politics over power bills, Delhi tends to gloss over its insatiable hunger for power.

At 1,651 KWh, Delhi’s per capita electricity consumption is among the highest in the country and more than double the national average of 778 KWh. Last year, around three million units of ACs were sold across India. Delhi accounted for 10-15% of this market (Business Standard, 2013) . Using even one AC causes total consumption to scale 400 units and pushes a large section of this middle-class out of the subsidy bracket, albeit seasonally.

Last Tuesday, the power demand in the Capital touched 5,925 MW, twice the demand in Mumbai (3,400 MW) and thrice that in Kolkata (2,100 MW). According to the 17th Electric Power Survey, by 2021, the city’s power demand would soar to 12,000 MW, which equals the present power supply to Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh and Uttarkhand combined.

Delhi couldn’t build new plants because getting gas linkage has been next to impossible. Coal-fired plants are environmentally hazardous. So the allocation from the central pool has more than doubled in a decade. As the cost of purchasing power will only grow, what Delhi needs urgently is demand-side management.

The suggestions to allow the time-of-the-day tariff found no takers among the residents who did not want to shift their usage from peak to off-peak hours. Even the commercial and industrial sectors were not keen on ToD metering.

Offices didn’t want to switch off their ACs in the afternoon. No factory owner wanted to run his facility at night. World over, ToD metering is linked to renewable energy sources, such as solar power that can be tapped and used during the peak hours when power is the costliest.

According to a Greenpeace report released last year, Delhi can produce 45% (2,557 MWs) of its electricity demand by tapping only 4.42 % of the available rooftop area.

A study by TERI calculated that just by opting for energy efficient bulbs and switching usage of geyser from peak to non-peak hours, a household could save 6-15% on its monthly bill. For the entire city, the corresponding impact would be a saving of 650 MWs of power if replicated in all households.

While linking solar energy sources to the grid, the government needs to provide incentives to homeowners and businesses to make efficiency improvements. Though CFLs are subsidised, experts say the government’s focus should now shift to the LED lights. According to the US Department of Energy, widespread use of LEDs could save about 348 TWh (terawatt hours) — compared to no LED use — by 2027.

In the Budget, the BJP proposed to develop the New Delhi Municipal Council area as a solar city. AAP promised to meet 20% of Delhi’s power requirement through solar energy in 10 years. Congress also made a similar commitment.

But it will require political resolve to translate such promises into action because unlike subsidies, these don’t make happy headlines.