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Generation gap

While the country faces its worst summer in 100 years, most cities have reported a deficit in electricity supply, increasing people’s woes, reports Avishek G Dastidar.

delhi Updated: May 26, 2010 01:17 IST
Avishek G Dastidar

"We have been promised no power cuts this summer but I don’t believe it," says Delhi resident Pankaj Aggarwal, who also heads an umbrella body of residents’ associations in the Capital. "We have already started facing outages every day. Why is it happening?"http://www.hindustantimes.com/images/HTEditImages/Images/26_05_10_india_power.jpg

This feeling of anger is not without basis. Last year, Delhi witnessed power cuts for six to eight hours a day in June.

This year the citizens’ associations in Delhi have decided to pull up the discoms if power cuts do not adhere to the published schedule this year.

Due to an unprecedented heat wave in April, power demand shot up to 4,400 MW very early, leading to frequent and long power cuts in south, east and west Delhi.

The situation improved a bit when the heat wave abated for a few weeks. But with the mercury soaring again across North India, the power cuts are beginning to make their presence felt.

This summer was supposed to be a landmark in Delhi’s history because for the first time the power utilities did not have a supply crunch.

About 490 MW from NTPC Dadri and 100 MW unallocated power from the central sector have so far helped the Capital tide over the situation earlier this year. Delhi now gets about 3,200 MW from the central allocations and other states, while generating about 1,000 MW on its own.

Residents, however, have kept their fingers crossed.

Not so rosy in other states

While Mumbai has not seen power cuts so far, Maharashtra is going through its worst power crisis in 20 years.

Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra registered a record demand 16,650 MW daily last week, creating a deficit of 6,650 MW. The demand is the highest in the past two decades.

While Mumbai’s utilities reduced the deficit to some extent, state utility MahaVitaran is unable to plug the 6,000-MW deficit because water scarcity has stopped generation at the state-owned 2,300 MW plant in Chandrapur.

So scheduled power cuts have been for around 8-20 hours daily, along with frequent unscheduled cuts.

Energy Minister Ajit Pawar told the assembly last month that the state would become power-surplus by 2012 with the help of the new units being built by the state and private producers. But that’s way in the future.

Parts of Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad have been reporting three to four hours of outages every day. Kolkata’s worse with six hours of blackouts in April and early May for systems breakdowns and non-availability.

In Jaipur, on the other hand, the duration of load-sheddings is two hours, but the district headquarters are facing four-hour power cuts.

In Lucknow, power cuts hit water supply, 70 per cent of which is from 560 tubewells which cannot operate without power.

What is the problem?

India’s per capita consumption of power remains a lowly 700 units — one fourth of China’s (2,800) and less than a tenth of the US’s (11,000 units).

And this is not counting the around 400 million Indians who never had access to electricity — the highest un-electrified population in the world.

Overall the power deficit is a high 12 per cent.

“What else can we expect when we do not have enough power to meet the demand we generate,” asks Aloke Kumar, secretary, Central Electricity Regulatory Commission, the apex body regulating transmission and distribution of power in India.

“Yes, there will be some power cuts if we do not manage the demand to at the consumer’s end as well apart from increasing generation.”

Over-ambitious

The current five-year plan (2007-2012) has set a target of 78,700 MW — the highest ever—for power generation. But a mid-term review of the power ministry showed that only about 63,000 MW could be achieved at the end of the plan period.

This is in addition to India’s installed capacity to generate 159,398 MW.

“The idea is to generate at least 25,000 MW every year. The base has been set for that in the current plan period,” says Anil Razdan, former Secretary, Union Power Ministry.

Ifs and buts

But the plants — thermal and hydel — which form the basis of these plans, are running way behind schedule.

The lack of availability of coal, gas and sometimes the heavy machinery has stalled the process of commissioning power plants regularly.

“The industry supplying the machinery to build the plants still does not have the adequate infrastructure to meet the huge demand created by this mammoth power generation exercise,” says S.M. Dhiman, Member, Central Electricity Authority, the central body advising the Indian government on the National Electricity Policy.

But the problem doesn’t end with generation.

Power generation will be of little use if we do not put in place the infrastructure to carry it and the systems to supply it to the consumer,” says Lalit Jalan, chief executive officer of Anil Ambani-controlled Reliance Infra, distributes power in parts of both Delhi and Mumbai.

“In many metros and Tier-II cities, the technical and commercial loss of electricity still stands over 50 per cent.”

Summer of hope?

Industry experts, however, are hopeful that the picture will be rosy this summer.

The CERC has notified a new grid code imposing steep financial penalty on states overdrawing power from the grid. The cost of overdrawing power has gone up between 40 and 100 per cent. “We are sure that no state can continue to overdraw with such heavy penalty on their heads,” CERC Secretary Kumar says.