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Grid failure in India was no mere technical snag

According to reports, we have got used to recurring power cuts, which occur due to our failure to add sufficient generation capacity over the past decades. When this mismatch in supply and demand becomes critical, it could trigger a grid collapse.

There could at times be genuine technical reasons for this kind of grid collapse. But most often, overdrawal of power by the States beyond their allocated share is the real culprit.

The affected people do complain for a while, but thereafter life becomes normal for both electricity consumers and planners. If we want to avoid such instances, the issue needs to be addressed in a pragmatic manner.

The first issue is of violation of grid discipline by power-hungry States, particularly in the northern region. The concept of Unscheduled Interchange (UI) was introduced as a deterrent to prevent these States from drawing more power.

Under the UI mechanism, if actual supply of energy is higher than scheduled, the generating stations are entitled to receive a payment for the excess energy at a higher rate during low frequency conditions (demand more than supply) or visa-versa in high frequency conditions (surplus injection of power by generators).

It was thought that the high UI rate during low-frequency conditions would induce all States to reduce their drawal from the grid, by maximising their own generation and/or by curtailing their consumer load.

Further, as per IEGC (Indian Electricity Grid Code), all parties connected to/or using the inter-state transmission system (ISTS) have to abide by the principles and procedures defined in the IEGC. Clearly, the mechanism does not seem to be effective in tackling the problem; time and again, various States have been warned by the regional load dispatcher, but the practice still continues.

We need to take a fresh look at the existing provisions and come up with stringent penal provisions and an enforceable mechanism to disconnect supply in situations of overdrawal. A periodic review of these mechanisms is necessary.

It is a moot point as to whether State Load Dispatch Centres (SLDC) work in an impartial manner, as the functions of SLDC are being performed by the State Transmission Utility and cases of conflict of interest cannot be ruled out.

Second, India has failed miserably in augmenting generation capacity since 1951, the year in which first Five Year Plan was introduced by the Planning Commission. It was only during the Seventh Five Year Plan (1985-1990) that we could add close to 96 per cent (21400 MW in aggregate terms) of the targeted capacity.

In subsequent Plans, it has never crossed the figure of 54 per cent of the planned capacity, except in the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-12), where 70 per cent (54000 MW in aggregate terms) of the planned capacity was added.

Given the past track record, we are unsure how the country is going to add nearly 90,000 MW of additional capacity in the next five years, when the sector is besieged by fuel supply, land and environmental issues.

It is important for planners to take this seriously, and address all associated issues in a time-bound manner.

Thirdly, while our demand is growing fast, and we are unable to add the required generation capacity due to various reasons, it is important to accelerate efforts in harnessing renewable energy. This is not just to supplement the growing energy needs, but to minimise the effects of climate change as well.

It is important to develop renewable energy infrastructure in areas that are inaccessible — where extending grid power would not be economically feasible.

Deployment of smart-grids or mini-grids with integration of locally available renewable energy resources is the need of the hour. Lastly, greater efforts should be made to raise awareness about energy conservation and sustainability principles.

Our inability to generate consciousness can be a major stumbling block in moving towards sustainable pathways. Ironically, we have not seen a single TV channel sparing 10 seconds during prime time, to inculcate energy-saving habits.

The grid failure on July 30 and 31 is a reminder that we are living on the edge. It is time for some serous action by all of us. Everyone has to join hands to achieve shared objectives.

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