Power failure causes chaos
What started in the Northern electricity grid as a power failure on Monday spread to two other grids, Eastern and North Eastern yesterday and led to 20 of 29 states being without electricity for hours during the business day.
The Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) said that businesses across northern India had lost billions of rupees in lost business in an outage that affected 600 million people.
The power failure was put down to power hungry states drawing on the grids beyond their allocated amount. Lack of investment and poor execution of the modernisation of India’s electricity grids, there are five separate grids, is part of the problem.
India is the fourth largest consumer of energy in the world after the United States, China and Russia. According to one estimate, India needs to invest at least $135 billion to provide universal access to electricity to its population (c40% of the population don’t have access to electricity supplies).
Around 55% of all energy production in India is provided through coal. A major concern is that Coal India, the state owned company which controls 80% of all Indian coal production, is failing to keep up with demand; coal production last year increased by around 1% whilst power plant capacity jumped to 11% (New York Times report, 19 April 2012).
Ironically, in yesterday’s breakdown, hundreds of coal miners were stranded underground because there was no electricity to lift them back up to the surface.
People in the Western and Southern electricity grids were not affected by yesterday’s outage but are routinely subject to power failures and as a consequence many businesses rely on diesel generators which are expensive to run. The overall effect is to make Indian industry less competitive because of uncertainty of supply as well as the cost of fuel, something the Indian government is going to have to tackle urgently.