With the temperature hitting a 62-year high in Delhi, a dismal scenario exists across the country on the power front. As unprecedented outages have become the order of the day, the power sector warrants some quick thinking and out of the box solutions.
Power shortage concerns reached such alarming levels in the national capital that Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung on June 8 had to instruct authorities to switch off high-mast street lamps for a few hours every day and cut supply to malls after 10 pm.
Even as residents of Delhi and the adjoining NCR are up in arms against the unscheduled cuts being effected by distribution companies, Union power minister Piyush Goyal claims that there are various challenges that need to be addressed first. The latest report by Central Electricity Authority (CEA), a nodal agency under ministry of power, states that the country’s energy shortage is expected to be 5.1% while peak shortage will be 2% this fiscal. The report, however, does not truly represent the ground reality, which is worse.
While the CEA report stated that Delhi and Punjab would have surplus energy in the current financial year, contrary to it both these states are now facing huge power shortages.
During 2013-14, the maximum energy shortage was recorded in Jammu & Kashmir (21.9%) and Uttar Pradesh (14%). In UP, except for the high-profile constituencies like Rae Bareli, Amethi, Etawah, Mainpuri, Kannauj and Rampur, other districts get irregular electricity supply. Varanasi, the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been added in the list of regular power supply, as announced by the state government in the first week of June. The daily power demand routinely breaches 13,500 MW against total availability of 11,000 MW in the state.
Reports state that the primary cause for power outages is projects lying in limbo. Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) states that statutory clearances are the “greatest barrier” for power growth in India. The famous Dabhol power project of the early 1990s, later renamed Ratnagiri Gas and Power Private Ltd, has not been generating electricity since 2013 due to lack of raw material — gas.
Last month, NTPC terminated a contract to develop and operate the first coal mine for power generation. The project was stalled for more than three years as high compensation was sought by villagers for their land.
The cabinet committee on investment formed in 2013 by the UPA government cleared 18 power projects worth Rs 83,000 crore. The major projects included Reliance Power’s 4,000 MW plant at Tilaiya in Jharkand and two hydro power projects in Arunachal Pradesh. These projects were stuck facing environmental clearances. It will take yet another 2-3 years for them to actually start generating electricity.
According to the power ministry, India produces only 4,780 MW of nuclear energy, which is only 2.08 percent of total electricity production. To increase nuclear energy production, the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement was signed in 2008. Six years later, no new nuclear power plants have come up. The country also lacks harnessing renewable energy resources for electricity generation.
Currently, around 59% of electricity in India is generated from coal-based power plants. The 12th five-year plan targeted an addition of 76 gigawatts (GW) electricity production by the end of 2017, with about 63 GW from coal-based generation for which 842 million tonnes of coal would be required every year. However, at 540 million tonnes a year, India’s coal output is short of demand by over 100 million tonnes.
In contrast, gas-based and hydro power projects contribute 8.91 percent and 17.39 percent, respectively, in total power generation.
On June 9, President Pranab Mukherjee in his joint session of Parliament said that the government's priority will be to provide 24x7 electricity supply to every family by the time nation completes 75 years of independence. The government plans capacity addition of 17,800 MW during 2014-15, comprising 14,958 MW of thermal, 842 MW of hydro and 2,000 MW of nuclear power stations.
FICCI, a Delhi-based industry body, states that unavailability of power has had a huge impact on industrial production so much so that India lost $68 billion due to outages in 2013. Faulty transmission is also one of the problematic areas for power supply, apart from rampant theft and pilferage.