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   Friday, October 19, 2018
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Let there be light
By Shankar Sharma

With grave mismatch between production and demand for electricity, frequent power cuts have become a norm in most states of India. While rural India is deprived of basic life line energy supplies, the urban areas are splurging on scarce energy sources. This situation cannot continue indefinitely.


While night shows and sport events consume huge amount of energy, people
suffer in small towns and villages

Almost all the states in the country are facing power crises despite a reasonably good monsoon. While the coal supply issue has acquired a crisis like situation due to flooded coal fields, strike by coal miners and steep hike in coal imports, the demand for electricity is ever increasing even after a decent monsoon season. The power cuts are frequent and the citizens have been suffering.

While on one hand the existing coal power plants are struggling to maintain operations due to inadequate coal supply, new power plants such as hydel plants in Himalayas and coal power plants all over the country are facing stiff opposition by the locals. The situation with unreliable coal supply from domestic and foreign sources is most likely to continue indefinitely. Consequently the power crises are likely to get worse unless our society takes urgent corrective measures. Unfortunately, there are no quick-fix solutions to the problems besetting the power sector.

The energy crisis is the result of the continuous failure of the concerned authorities for decades. The impact due to chronic power cuts on the country during last many years has not been understood by most people; not even by the decision makers. Otherwise, the situation would not have been allowed to degenerate to such a low level.

Experts have been suggesting measures to efficiently manage the power situation for almost 25 years. Late Prof. A K N Reddy of Indian Institute of Sciences, provided many such measures way back in mid 80s. Some of the measures to get immediate relief could be:

Start a massive and concerted public awareness campaign on energy conservation and energy usage efficiency through electronic and print media. Appeal to the domestic consumers to save 5-10% of energy every month.
  • Negotiate with the owners of captive power plants so as to make use of their idle capacity, if any, at least during the peak demand hours.
  • ESCOMs should procure good quality CFL lamps in adequate numbers and supply them to consumers to replace the incandescent lamps at reasonable rates. This would reduce the peak demand by about 5,000- 10,000 MW, and save energy requirement of about 1,500 to 2,000 MU per month.
  • Start a massive and concerted public awareness campaign on energy conservation and energy usage efficiency through electronic and print media, and with the help of credible NGOs. Appeal to the domestic consumers to save 5-10% of energy every month as compared to the consumption during corresponding months of previous year.
  • Appeal to the public to avoid using electrical appliances other than essential lighting accessories between 6.00 AM to 8.00 AM and between 6.00 PM and 8.00 PM.
  • The energy conservation and energy usage efficiency measures will provide maximum benefits, if they are undertaken on a war footing basis in those regions which are far away from main generating sources.
  • Consider, through executive orders in each state, if necessary, asking all commercial installations above a certain connected load, say 5 kW, to reduce their energy consumption by 10% as compared to corresponding month of the previous year until further notice. These measures are better implemented with the consent of the state regulators.
  • Ban the illuminated hoardings /advertisement boards and decorative lighting applications until further notice.
  • Consider banning the operation of shopping malls and other non-essential commercial establishments with connected load of, say, above 5 kW after 7.00 PM till 10.00 AM.
  • Ban all night time sports until further notice. In case of the already committed national and international sports events ask the hosts to enter into agreement with private companies outside the state to buy the necessary amounts of energy and peak demand power.
  • There is a scope for drastically reducing the wastages in street lights. In most of the urban areas there is unnecessarily high illumination of the roads/streets. Consider asking all urban local bodies to disconnect power supply to every alternate street light pole in highly illuminated areas.
  • Consult industry bodies such as FICCI and CII to reduce monthly energy consumption in industrial units by 5-10 % as compared to corresponding month of the previous year.
  • Take strict measures to keep the street lights off during day time, and make clearly identified individuals in local bodies responsible for the violations. Install light sensitive auto switches to the street lights on a priority basis.
  • Ask all govt. offices not to use Air Conditioning where alternatives are available. Mandate them to reduce energy consumption by 10%.
  • Mandate reduction by 50% the energy consumption of the lifts in non-essential locations.
  • A task force in each state on electricity can go a long way in addressing the power crises not only in the short term but also to recommend/implement sustainable methods of meeting the electricity/energy demand.

Medium to long term measures

Whereas the above mentioned measures can give short term relief, the long term view of the demand/supply of electricity should never be ignored. It is the lack of such foresight for decades which has resulted in the present day crises.

Through consultations with the public and the regulator, the widespread usage of roof top solar photo voltaic panels should be implemented on the premises of residences, shops, industries, schools, colleges, offices etc. not only to generate electricity for local usage, but also to export the excess electricity to the grid.

Only concrete and focused measures will provide the lasting solution to our crises, and not the knee jerk reactions, which successive governments have been following. Industry experts are of the opinion that the electricity shortages in as experienced in the recent past and as projected for the foreseeable future are entirely avoidable. There is adequate power generating capacity in most of the states; but the crises are due to the grossly inadequate attention to manage the same efficiently. Each of the state govt. should consider convening a meeting of the ESCOMs, consumer groups, industry observers, and other interested parties to find suitable ways to tide over the situation. The public would expect the authorities to know that without the active co-operation of the public the power sector crises cannot be overcome even in a decade.

Due diligence such as detailed studies and effective public consultations is required if we are to aim at finding sustainable measures as mentioned below.

  • Effective and sustained awareness campaign should be launched to draw the attention of the society that there cannot be limitless supply of electricity/energy; that the cost of providing electricity/energy is going up steeply every year; that the real cost to our society of providing electricity/energy to our houses, offices, shops, irrigation pump sets, industries etc. is much more than what we are paying now; and that the highest possible efficiency and responsibility in the usage is essential.
  • Through effective participation of various stake holders the realistic price of delivering electricity to the end consumers should be determined, and every consumer should be persuaded to pay the diligently determined tariff for the electricity usage which is measured accurately. Such a realistic tariff should lead to very responsible use of electricity.
  • All the concerned people in the power sector, including the STATE, would do well to realize that only through an integrated energy management approach, involving optimal utilisation of the existing assets, effective demand side management, realistic levels of energy conservation, and widespread use of renewable energy resources, can the legitimate demand for electricity of every section of our society be satisfactorily met on a sustainable basis.
  • T&D losses should be targeted to be reduced below 10% by 2015. End use efficiency should be improved by making high efficiency appliances financially attractive to deploy.
  • Persuade sports bodies managing stadiums etc. to install solar photo voltaic panels on their roofs to generate adequate power to meet their own requirements. Such sports and entertainment bodies should be asked to generate a certain percentage of their monthly electricity requirements (say 25% of their monthly usage) through solar photo-voltaic panels installed on their roof tops.
  • Through consultations with the public and the regulator, the widespread usage of roof top solar photo voltaic panels should be implemented on the premises of residences, shops, industries, schools, colleges, offices etc. not only to generate electricity for local usage, but also to export the excess electricity to the grid. This practice will drastically reduce the need for coal based, dam based and nuclear based power plants.
  • Similarly, suitably designed community based solar power plants OR bio-mass power plants can reduce the pressure on the existing power grid by a huge margin; will minimize the T&D losses; accelerate the rural electrification; and can go a long way in reducing urban migration.
  • Positive intervention through tariff policies has huge potential to reduce the peak hour electricity demand on the electricity grid by measures such time-of-day tariff and penalties/incentives for peak hour usage; staggering of weekly holidays and factory working hours.
  • Through a carefully planned integrated energy management approach the reliance on coal based, dam based and nuclear based power plants should be gradually reduced.
  • An objective costs and benefits analysis of every power project proposal, through effective public participation, will assist in ensuring real benefits to the society.
It is not only the electrical energy which requires our high priority but also all forms of energy whether it is petrol or diesel or LPG. With about 75% of our petroleum consumption depending on imports, and not having much of our own natural gas reserves our society has a major challenge ahead to manage our demand/ supply scenario.

It is high time that the concerned authorities realize that seeking to meet the electricity demand through more of coal power plants (despite the fast depleting coal reserves and in the context of many water stressed states in the country); or through building more of hydel power plants (in the already threatened Himalayas); or through life threatening nuclear reactors will be futile exercises keeping in view the hugely deleterious impacts of these conventional power sources on our communities. The daily saga of how coal power plants in the country are suffering due to loss of coal supply is a clear indication of the difficult days ahead for the entire country. Any one following the developments in domestic and international coal markets will be able to surmise that coal power plants cannot be a sustainable option. At a time when drinking water supply has become a serious issue for thousands of our villages, even to contemplate on additional coal power plants, which will require huge quantities of fresh water, should be unacceptable.

A paradigm shift in the way our society looks at demand/supply of electricity/energy is urgently required. In the eagerness to meet the insatiable demand of electricity to our urban areas, we should not ignore the basic requirements of rural communities such as clean air, drinking water, livelihood, absence of threat of forcible displacement etc. Are we serious about this societal obligation?

It is not only the electrical energy which requires our high priority but also all forms of energy whether it is petrol or diesel or LPG. With about 75% of our petroleum consumption depending on imports, and not having much of our own natural gas reserves our society has a major challenge ahead to manage our demand/ supply scenario. While our rural areas are struggling to get even life line energy supplies, the urban areas are splurging on energy sources. This situation cannot continue indefinitely. Our society has to address this challenge early before the things get out of control.

It is also evident that the society cannot rely on the govt agencies alone to ensure us the required level of energy security. At the levels of individuals and communities there is a lot we can do to address the serious energy/electricity supply crises. Some such measures we can consider not only to reduce the energy demand of the society but also to curb global warming are:

  • Reduce energy consumption at individual levels: drive smart; walk wherever feasible; switch off electrical appliances at the wall socket when not really required.
  • Support clean, renewable energy; use solar water heaters and roof top solar PV panels.
  • Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs.
  • Saving energy at home is good for the environment and for one’s own wallet.
  • Become a smart water consumer; adopt rain water harvesting.
  • Buy only energy-efficient electronic and electrical appliances.
  • Plant a Tree, protect a forest
  • Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!
  • Mount a local campaign against global warming.
  • Write to our policymakers now. Urge them to raise electricity/energy economy standards.

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Shankar Sharma  |  shankar.sharma2005@gmail.com

The author is a power policy analyst based in Shimoga district of Karnataka state. He remains passionate about renewable energy and environment.

Write to the Author  |  Write to d-sector  |  Editor's Note

 Other Articles by Shankar Sharma in
Physical Development  > Energy > National Policies and Programmes

Capacity sans sustainability
Tuesday, August 31, 2010

In view of the social, economic and environmental impacts of fossil fuels, and their limited availability, India needs a paradigm shift in its approach towards the energy sector. A detailed critique of Integrated Energy Policy is put up here for objective analysis by concerned experts and stakeholders.

The great energy divide
Thursday, December 24, 2009

Instead of blindly adding millions of MW of additional capacity and increasing GHG emissions to bridge the energy divide, India needs to adopt an integrated approach based on renewable energy sources and decentralized supply systems at its core.
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The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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