According to reports, in a welcome collaboration between the government and technologists, a new experiment to spare Indians the travails of power cuts is getting underway in South India.
The idea is very simple. A variety of household equipment now runs on direct current (DC), rather than the alternating current (AC) that is supplied to households from the distribution grid. And these things, LED lighting, flat panel TV or computer monitors, mobile phones and computers, all run on very little power and at low voltage.
These convert the AC supply from the mains to DC at the level of the equipment. What the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras proposes is to run a low-load (100 watts, in place of the typical 4,000-10,000 Watts) DC line to every home, where it would be converted to low voltage, 48 volts, and feed into a separate meter and wiring for lights, TV and fans that run on DC.
Since the power required to run such a system is so low, SEBs will not need to shut this down while carrying out load-shedding. The result would be uninterrupted power supply for a minimal set of appliances.
Such physical segregation of the power supply for a minimal set of household appliances and that for running more power-hungry equipment running on standard AC power will also come in handy for governments to limit their subsidy burden on households. The government could, for example, decide to bear the entire tab for households that only consume power on the DC line.
IIT-M has tied up with the four southern electricity boards to run a pilot project of a few hundred households in every state. The equipment that converts AC from the transformer into DC to be sent to homes must work and household willingness to bear the additional outlay on DC fans and a converter at home must be proved.
If DC wiring were to become standard, solar energy uptake would also get a boost. The larger point is the capacity the present project demonstrates for India’s technology institutions and the government system to work together in innovative ways.