Need for innovative solutions to tackle power crisis


The people of Karnataka have been experiencing power cuts in the summer months every year almost continuously since Independence except, perhaps for two or three years in the 1970s. This year the crisis started even before the winter of 2008. With the government now declaring its intention of imposing power cuts for the entire year, the situation has reached grave proportions.

This is despite the fact that there has been considerable addition to the generating capacity within the state and also in the Central sector assistance since Independence. Also, the current monsoon has helped fill most of the reservoirs. Due to a phenomenal increase in demand from various sections of the society, including agriculture and industry, power cuts have become more of a norm than an exception. The deficits are largely during the peak hours of the day, and the annual energy shortage has not been huge.

Keeping in view the gross inefficiency with which the existing electricity assets in the state have been managed all these years, there are credible signs that the gap between demand and supply of electricity will only increase unless course corrections are applied immediately.

Whereas the utilisation of the existing electricity infrastructure has been grossly inefficient, the state is reported to be planning to spend in excess of Rs 30,000 crore on new power projects during the next five years. Such huge expenditure on ghastly and avoidable projects such as Gundia hydel project and coal-based power projects in different parts of the state are in stark contrast to the fund shortage for departments dealing with essential sectors such as drinking water supply, poverty alleviation, housing, education, etc. The large size power projects also have huge deleterious impacts on the society in the form of social and environmental damages.

In this background, the society has to make a well considered choice in order to get a sustainable developmental model. The rational option will be to make an objective review of the past performance of the power sector and apply course corrections immediately.

The electricity supply companies (Escoms) should manage well both the supply and demand simultaneously, with strong emphasis on the long-term sustainability of such actions. Some of the short-term and medium measures, which could help us to tide over the situation are:

*Escoms should supply energy efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) to each of the existing consumers of electricity to replace the incandescent lamps. Even if we can ensure 50 per cent of the incandescent lamps to be replaced by CFLs, we may be able to reduce the state’s peak demand by about 300 MW (mega watts), and save energy by about 50 to 60 MU (million kWH) per month.

*Reducing the transmission and distribution (T&D) losses from 25 per cent to below 10 per cent will virtually provide about 1,000 MW of additional power at a much lower cost than with new power projects.

*State should encourage large scale use of solar energy for water heating and lighting in residences, shops, hospitals, hotels, etc. Even if 75 per cent of the AEH consumers, and 50 per cent of the offices, schools, and street lights are fitted with solar panels, a conservatively estimated 1,500MW of peak demand and about 80MU of energy per month can be saved.

*Since decorative lighting in commercial installations in cities and towns do not generally contribute to the economy of the state, adequate restrictions on the usage of the same should be enforced.

*Staggered industry working hours in different parts of the state will help in reducing the peak demand during evening hours.

*Escoms should be mandated to begin a massive, concerted and sustained campaign on demand side management, energy efficiency and conservation. Appeals and suggestions should be sent out through print and electronic media, to reduce monthly energy consumption.

*Adequate incentives should be offered for reducing the electricity usage between 6 and 9 pm for all those consumers having time-of-day metering facility.

*Electricity tariff structure should be redesigned to heavily discourage wasteful consumption of electricity in all categories of consumers.

*Other measures such as rainwater harvesting, usage of bio-mass and wind based small size power generators will provide substantial relief.

*Making the large number of agricultural pumpsets optimally efficient can reduce the annual energy demand by as much as 20 per cent of the total energy sales. The state government should seriously consider investing in this measure because of the feasibility of huge returns.

Investment in these measures will be much less than that required to build new power projects, and will also result in perpetual benefits to the state like reduced T&D losses, improved quality of electricity, and economic and social welfare of the state. Unless the power sector exhibits high levels of operational efficiency, financial accountability and environmental sensitivity, there will be no relief for the people from the vicious cycle of power shortage and energy cuts.

(The writer is an energy expert)

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