According to reports, power tariff reforms have been a topic of discussion in India for some time now. The financial loss of power distribution is a staggering Rs1,20,000 crore, or nearly 1.5% of our GDP. The world’s largest blackout on July 30-31 indicates that the sooner reforms are implemented the better it is for the country. Reform does not mean just revision of power tariff, but requires inclusive measures, including a thorough overhaul of technology with inbuilt safety measures to tackle unforeseen situations.
First, let me explain how the national grid failure occurred.
Electricity flows through a series of substations after being generated in a power plant and goes to power substations that scale down the high voltage to levels suitable for consumption. A frequency of 50 Hz is maintained by balancing supply and demand by a load management system. The frequency falls or rises if a state draws more or less. If power is overdrawn, it trips an entire section in a fraction of a second. This is what happened when Uttar Pradesh drew power beyond the contractual amount.
In this age of high degree of instrumentation and sophisticated load management systems, why can we not develop a proper interlock in the control system that will stop such cascading effects in the entire system? This necessitates finding out peak time domestic usage — in the form of refrigerators, air-conditioners and washing machines — and discouraging them with installation of instrumentation that will automatically stop them based on signals at peak time. Domestic users should be given discounted rates to consume power during non-peak times to ensure even usage of power. As appliances and other technologies align with such a smart grid’s capabilities, the consumer will be able to create home area networks that will talk with the grid.
The government is now embarking on a huge drive to generate solar power in all states in a bid to connect the power thus generated to the central grid. But this requires a very disciplined load management system in the network. In Eastern Europe, the quantum of solar power generated is so huge and the power grid is so technologically sound that countries do not hesitate to sell power to other countries in need through the common grid.
In India private companies, for whom power is crucial, end up investing huge amounts in the form of very high capacity diesel generators and also a huge inventory of diesel as a second line of defence. From this analysis, it is evident that the government is consistently ignoring various transmission and distribution companies by allowing violation of laws by various states, which do not hesitate to overdraw power without prior communication, and unscrupulous power theft by consumers, that too in peak hours.
With the prime minister’s office unable to sort out incessant differences among the power, oil, coal and environmental ministries, India’s power projects have died a slow death despite the government being aware of the rising demand driven by the increasing urban lifestyle and growing dependence on electrical pumps in villages. Today, power projects capable of generating approximately 31,000 MW are held up for environmental clearance. The government, despite knowing well that the import of coal is not a long-term solution for the power problem, is not allowing private participation in coal production from various mines in eastern India.
Today, the availability of 24-hour power supply is no more a luxury; it is a right. We cannot move a step without it. Power is indispensable, whether for using mobile phones, computers, TV sets and washing machines on the domestic front, running the Metro and hospitals on the public front, or integrating with global networks for services provided by various IT companies on the industrial front. It is high time the government considered power a high-security issue for the country’s survival and found ways to resolve the shortage on a war footing. In case this requires bringing in specialist overseas companies, it is worth considering since the return on investment is very high in the long run. If necessary we can keep other reforms like FDI in retail and pension pending till this is resolved satisfactorily.
The writer is general manager, piping, Reliance