Delhi's midsummer nightmare

Power cuts have become everyday ritual here. And when you call up the electricity complaint helpline, the staff throws jargon at you. Needless to say that people have to bear the brunt of outages,” says Rohit Sharma, a Mayur Vihar Phase 1 resident. “Even the water supply has been irregular.”

Power and water problems often mark summer in the capital. Since the Aam Aadmi Party came to power in Delhi, the electricity tariff has been slashed by 50 per cent and households which use less than 20,000 litres of water per month get it free.  But residents who face power outages and erratic power supply remain unimpressed.

In spite of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s warning private power distribution companies (discoms) of serious consequences of load shedding, power cuts for long hours continue to take place.

“Almost every other night the current goes in our society after 1.30 am. The so-called technical glitch, as termed by the electricians, lasts for over three hours. Some days the power goes as early as 7 in the morning. On Wednesday, the power went around 7.30 am and came back only after noon,” says Rekha Bhardwaj, another Mayur Vihar resident.

Complaints related to grid failure are not addressed promptly by the discoms, leaving scores of residents to suffer in the sweltering heat, with temperatures often crossing the 40 degree Celsius mark.
“More often than not, nobody answers the call for the first half an hour. And even if someone receives a call, he will direct you to another complaint centre,” says Satwinder Singh, who lives in Laxmi Nagar.

“And you will be asked to call up at least six to eight people and made to talk to them for long before you ring off,” he adds.
Experts say that even as the AAP government  clamours for new power plants to make Delhi sufficient in electricity supply, it is indifferent to consumptive use of subsidised electricity for running power-guzzling air conditioners. 
A Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) analysis exposes how peak demand for electricity between day and night shows little difference as household demand for air conditioning increases as well.

 “Delhi does not walk the talk when it comes to following the UN message on this World Environment Day -- Consume with Care. Cheap electricity, rising incomes and badly designed buildings that trap heat have led to the adaption of energy-intensive active cooling practices in the capital,” says the study by CSE.
Power experts say people have started consuming more elecricity which causes overloading.
“Overloading due to excessive drawl of power puts a heavy strain on the distribution network. This, at places, is leading to severe overloading of the distribution system resulting in tripping and is also a potential safety hazard. This dangerous overloading of the distribution system can also damage the distribution equipment,” says a discom official.

“So people should increase their santioned load.”
The CSE analysis of energy use in Delhi has identified the domestic sector as the biggest guzzler of electricity.

“While the AAP government in Delhi is only concerned with increasing electricity supply and subsidising consumption, it has not paid attention to the urgent need to also reduce consumption with controls and energy pricing. This is imposing enormous environmental and economic costs,” says Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE’s executive director - research and advocacy.
 “While it is important to improve energy access for all especially for the poor, steps are also needed to promote prudent and sustainable consumption of electricity,” adds Rowchowdhury,  who also heads CSE’s sustainable urbanisation programme.

Experts say the growing reliance on air conditioning upsets the energy balance in the city.
 “In Delhi, air conditioning now accounts for the highest consumption of electricity during the hottest months, accounting for about 28 per cent of the total monthly electricity consumption,” says the CSE.
“It is the air conditioners in homes that skew the demand at night. This trend is starkly opposed to the trend in most other metros when demand during the night is lower than daytime as power-intensive sectors like industries, shops, offices and malls are closed,” says Avikal Somvanshi, senior research associate with CSE’s sustainable buildings programme.

According to an estimate by Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE), ACs contribute almost 60 per cent of Delhi’s peak electricity demand. 

Experts say that there is no effective policy in Delhi to discourage overconsumption or actively promote energy efficiency measures to cool down the buildings and reduce energy demand.

Power demand
Experts say that the amount of electricity that is subsidised for each household is more than the average consumption in Delhi and the country. No wonder Delhi has consumed more electricity last year than all the other metros put together.
“Delhi’s peak demand has doubled in the last 10 years, growing faster than the population of the city. Delhi registered an all-time high peak demand in June last year at 6,006 MW. This demand was higher than the combined highest ever peaks of Mumbai, Kolkata and Chandigarh! CEA projects Delhi’s peak will cross 6,300 MW this year and 12,000 MW by 2021,” says a CSE study.

According to discoms, Delhi’s peak power demand during the summers of 2015 is expected to touch 6,300-6,400 MW and around 7,000 MW during 2016.
Besides making arrangements of adequate power, discoms say they have undertaken several measures to ensure reliable power supply during upcoming summer months.

These include preventive maintenance, a large part of which is already over, and load-balancing at the sub-stations. The BSES is also deploying additional manpower and setting up a dedicated team for monitoring  complaints.

The discoms say they are working in tandem with Delhi Transco Ltd to ensure that the distribution system is geared to meet the summer load.

 “Cable puncture is a major cause of outages. BSES discoms are appealing to other civic agencies like DMRC, DJB, and PWD to take permission from concerned discoms before starting digging on any corridor. This will help prevent damage to electricity cables and disruption in power supply,” says a discom official.

Situation is no better on the water front as erratic supply forces residents to borrow water from neighbours or buy packaged drinking water from the market.

“I have to buy bottles of drinking water from the market during peak summer time as water supply is erratic. It becomes difficult to cook food, clean utensils if water doesn’t come for one day,” says Harshita Sen, a Lajpat Nagar resident.

Amit Kumar, a Subhash Nagar resident, echoes similar concerns.  “The supply of water is irregular so we have to rely on water tankers,” he adds.
Water wastage
While some areas face a dearth of water, there are some places where people waste water on washing cars and watering gardens.

“There is uneven distribution of water supply across Delhi. The New Delhi Municipal Council area gets ample supply of water,” says a Delhi Jal Board official.

Environmentalists say water should be used judiciously as many areas in Delhi get a sporadic water supply.

The DJB has started supplying additional water to many areas. A case in point is Dwarka.
Residents of Dwarka and adjoining colonies have started getting 60 million litres of additional water per day since last Wednesday. The water is supplied by a ‘command tank’.

“We really needed this. Earlier we have been getting water supply once in two weeks. This has come as a major relief,” says Shyam Sundar, a resident of Dwarka Sector 10.

Some 26 colonies and villages around Dwarka have got the much needed relief. “DJB Engineers have worked on war footing to ensure commissioning of this command tank and repaired old water lines to provide relief in summer months,” says an offical with DJB.

Clearly, there should be a cap on the amount of power subsidy for each household, experts say.
Experts say that both the Delhi government and Centre must work together. “Need policies for improvement in thermal comfort of the houses being made for the poor. Bring housing sector within the ambit of energy efficiency measures,” says the CSE.

The Energy Conservation Act of 2001 doesn’t recognise domestic sector as energy guzzler and excludes it from all the efforts being made to conserve energy.

“This should be amended. The city needs to have an extreme heat action plan which helps reduce formation of urban heat islands and reduce the cooling load on the grid.”

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