The phrase “Power Cuts” is quite well known and familiar to most people in India. Many of us have seen lot of power cuts in our lives, some planned and some unplanned. Cursing the government or the electricity distribution company is the most common thing that we do when we face power cuts. When I was growing up I always used to think that there is limited electricity and rationing is happening, so that everyone gets his or her share of it. Having seen things being distributed through ration shops, it seemed like an obvious reason. When I came to Mumbai, I saw that there were no “Power Cuts” in Mumbai, and I started wondering if my concept of rationing was wrong. But in recent years, due to my work in this sector, I have understood the reasons why power cuts happen, and with this article I would like to explain my understanding. Below are some reasons why power cuts happen:
Lack of resources
Recently we were at an electric good shop and were trying to buy energy efficient appliances. During our interaction with the shop owner, he mentioned, “all of our country’s electricity problem will be solved if all the coal related corruption is stopped”. Like him a lot of people believe that it is lack of coal that is responsible for all power cuts. To an extent it is true but not completely. Recently I was in a meeting related to power sector in a state and the government executives mentioned that we have enough fuel to provide electricity till 2020. Then what is the problem?
Like all infrastructure related problems, even in the power sector, the problem lies with capacity. We do not have enough capacity to generate enough power when it is needed. And every time we add capacity, it becomes insufficient as the demand increases. To give you an analogy, India needs a lot of wide roads to cater to all the travel needs in the country. Various cities are under stress as there is not enough road to handle peak traffic. Traffic jams are quite common during peak hours. But are there jams in non-peak hour? No, not much. Similarly demand of electricity is very high during peak hours and we do not have enough infrastructure to generate it at that pace during peak hours, result? Power cuts. Electricity is not something that is generated, stored and distributed when needed. It is generated and immediately distributed. Thus as we need wider roads during the peak traffic hours, we need more electricity generation during peak consumption hours. During all other hours there is enough to handle the load. Thus power cuts happen during peak hours so that priority can be given to places that need it urgently during those hours. It’s kind of like having a traffic police on the road to control the traffic.
Every year we hear of new roads being built, new over bridges being constructed and new infrastructure projects being constructed, but by the time the project finishes, the traffic increases so much that the ones that have been constructed are not enough for handling the load. Similarly every year new power projects start or get completed, but by the time they are built, the power generated is not enough. And the situation remains the same, traffic jams and power cuts.
One of the reasons why traffic jams continue is because as the roads are being constructed, the number of vehicles keeps increasing. We see more and more number of cars on the road, which effectively negates any positive impact created by new roads. Similarly with power, the number of electricity guzzling appliances keeps increasing day-by-day negating all the positive impact a new power plant may create. Our appetite for consumption keeps increasing which does not let any infrastructure development create any sort of positive impact.
It is repeatedly mentioned that good public transport system can reduce the load on our roads. Similarly we need to note that energy efficiency is very much important to reduce load on our power systems. If people use appliances that consume less electricity while giving the same output, then the power systems will be able to deliver as per their promise and there will be less of power cuts.
Also like with the roads, we need more wider and better roads, we also need more and better power generation systems that can generate electricity. Using renewable sources of energy can solve some of the power generation problems.
When we were growing up, failures of local transformers were very common. Power cuts used to happen because the systems we had were not up to the mark. Although with use of latest technologies, this problem has been mitigated to quite an extent, but still there are lot of places in the country, where the work is still pending. Just like bad roads, bad power systems still exist in many places in the country, resulting in failures leading to power cuts.
How come there is no power cuts in certain places?
Many places in the country like Mumbai rarely have power cuts. And one may wonder how does that happen? Well it is not always that these places have enough generation capacity, what they do is buy electricity at a higher price during the peak demand period. The electricity is bought either from other states or private power plants. The result is that the cost of electricity is high. But the electricity is reliable and is available 24 hours.
Most people will feel that we can solve problems of power cuts by adding generation capacity, by adopting renewable solutions big time or by fixing corruption with coal. Although all of that is necessary, but we also need to ensure that our appliances are replaced with efficient ones, so that we get the same level of comforts without any compromise and also reduce our consumption of electricity.