Anatomy of a power crisis

Anatomy of a power crisis

Not since 2003 has Bengaluru witnessed a load-shedding scenario of this scale.

Anatomy of a power crisis

Unprecedented in scale, unacceptably long, the load-shedding across the City have had Bengalureans in a tizzy.

If three to four hour powercuts had the official stamp, the unscheduled maintenance shutdowns extending the darkness to eight hours or more have played havoc with people’s daily plans. Frantic in their search for solutions, consumers have opted for costly but unsustainable alternatives. Is there an end in sight?

Dark, desolate and dangerous, the deliberately unlit streets paint a picture of extreme desperation to save power somehow, somewhere. Will power so preserved from those unlit streetlights resolve the crisis? Does the load-shedding have an expiry date? Does the City have a Plan-B? But more importantly, why did the government let the scene get so acutely precarious?

As consumers opt in droves for expensive UPS systems and polluting diesel generators, the Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (Bescom) has a big reason to justify the load-shedding: An acute shortage of inflow into the State’s hydel reservoirs, a dire-straits scenario triggered by poor rains in the catchment areas.

For Bescom Managing Director Pankaj Kumar Pandey, the current crisis is a temporary one that could fizzle out in a week or ten days. But he too admits that the last time Bengaluru witnessed a shortage crisis of this scale was in 2003!

Genesis of crisis
So, what sparked the problem? To answer that, Pandey draws attention to the thermal power plants that goes for maintenance shutdown between July and October, a period that coincides with the monsoon. Every year, the expected higher supply from hydel plants would compensate for the shortfall due to the shutdown. But this season, the deficit monsoon was not anticipated.

Complicating matters, the two units of the 1,200MW Udupi Power Corporation Limited (UPCL) developed technical problems in the second week of August and had to be shut down. “Maintenance of the thermal power plants could not be delayed, and the reservoir levels were only 50 per cent of last year’s levels,” explains Pandey. Sensing further trouble, the available hydel power is now being preserved for the distress months from January to April.

An extensive, live monitoring system at the Bescom headquarters tracks the scheduled load-shedding across a maze of sub-stations and feeders. Consumers are fed advance information on the schedule on the Bescom websites. Yet, hundreds complain of extended shutdowns that stretch to almost eight hours in some areas. Does Bescom have an answer to this oft-repeated problem?

Transformer maintenance
Maintenance work at the transformer level appears to be the culprit. This work, which is often taken in their stride by consumers, amplifies to monstrous proportions when combined with a scheduled load-shedding. During this process, known technically as Group Operation System (GOS), the transformers are isolated from the main feeder line, halting power supply for four to six hours.

But why can’t Bescom schedule this GOS work too so that consumers could plan better? It is a tricky one as GOS has multiple staff working on different transformers simultaneously, reasons Pandey. For the consumers though, this is not convincing enough as they desperately seek a way out of days wasted without any access to electricity.

Solar power was once touted as a viable answer to some of Bengaluru’s power woes. But not many residential consumers have expoused the solar cause in a big way. For all the hype, the total power generated from solar power plants installed in homes under Bescom limits and fed into the grid is a hyper-low 2MW. This is not even a fraction of Bengaluru city’s total daily requirement of 2,200MW.

EHT consumers
If the 30 per cent deficit in the city’s power demand is distributed equally among all consumers, the load-shedding could be less taxing. But that is not an option before Bescom. There are 62 Extra High Tension (EHT) consumers in Bengaluru that demand uninterrupted 24/7 power supply.

One glance at this EHT consumer list and you know they cannot afford a load-shedding at any cost. The list includes  BWSSB, Railways, Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL), Kempegowda International Airport (KIA), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and a host of IT companies from ITPL Whitefield and Electronics City.

So, the next best option is for them to use power backup available during the morning and evening peak hours. It has been estimated that if the EHT consumers opt for power backup for two to four hours, Bescom could get a relief of 100 MW during peak hours.

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