Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to personally intervene and provide assistance to Delhi. Kejriwal had claimed that the thermal power plants in the National Capital do not have sufficient coal to meet the increasing demands for electricity. While this request was seen as a political move, so that the railways and the central government could be blamed for “energy insecurity” in Delhi, others also saw it as an issue of “mismanagement” by the Delhi government.
According to energy experts, Delhi and North India are particularly vulnerable to a blackout. Most households in the region, particularly in Delhi, own air conditioners and refrigerators. The Capital is also the hub of economic and industrial activity, where central air-conditioning is the norm. This puts an additional burden on the power grid during the summers.
This time round, the heat wave in North India has ensured power demands are set to break all previous records. Soon a state may come that a blackout scenario in North India may become inevitable and unavoidable. In 2012, North India faced its worst-ever blackout, which affected an estimated 670 million Indians. Foreign media dubbed it as the “world’s biggest ever blackout.” In the same year, Delhi had broken all previous records of energy consumption. The government, however, took measures after the 2012 blackout and has so far been successful in avoiding, if not all, most major power blackouts since then.
There are challenges that Delhi and Central governments still have to face. The total population of Delhi in 2011-12 was 1.68 crore approximately, which has increased to around 1.9 crore in 2018. This increase in population is affecting energy consumption, ensuring that this year the National Capital broke the previous year’s record of 6,526 megawatts of energy consumption. The Delhi government is preparing to address the demand of an estimated 7,000 megawatts this July, but if it fails, it can lead to one of the biggest blackouts in Northern India, bigger than 2012. Due to this rise in demand, coal loading during April-May 2018 was 17.4 per cent more than the coal loading achieved last year.
It is now a globally known fact that coal is not the cleanest energy fuel and nations have been urged to replace it to tackle climate change. While most nations, including India, have accelerated their actions to reduce dependence on coal energy, an emergency situation will only increase the dependence on coal, which is particularly bad for the Capital in terms of pollution. Delhi’s air quality had already deteriorated to ‘severe’ this summer.
The problem is that the government so far has refused to act on the problem. Data in March this year showed that the sale of air conditioners in North India, particularly in and around Delhi NCR, had reached an all-time high. This should have caused the government to take appropriate steps. Secondly, the rising population of Delhi is no secret and as a result, energy efficient policies are all the more necessary. Third, the Centre’s claims of energy surplus fails to acknowledge other existing problems with the electricity system in India. Lastly, the government should be particularly concerned with the fact that other parts of the country have been witnessing parallel blackouts and uncertainties. Recently, Mumbai faced a big power outage when TATA’s power unit tripped. Even though the TATA unit is a privately-run unit, the government needs to step in to address the uncertainties attached with energy consumption in summers.
Is the Northern Grid, including the Delhi power plants, ready to avoid a major blackout or power grid failure in 2018? Given the present situation, it seems that North India is not “blackout proof” and it is not ready to meet increasing power demand. Given past patterns, the governments can still manage and plan out energy production and consumption policy, but they must take care to ensure that all blackouts, minor and major, are avoided. For this, they have to act now to ensure proper “energy management”.
The task is a serious one and failure to manage electricity can affect the entire country. As far as the Capital is concerned, if Delhi faces a blackout, it affects the entire Northern Grid and some parts of Western Grid as well. This will impact not just water supply, but day-to-day life as well. Perhaps the government may need to consider policies such as allowing the use of only one fan, one air conditioner and one refrigerator in a household of four, if the energy situation in Delhi reaches an “extreme situation”.
Many Indians are used to power shortages, so a minor blackout would not affect them a lot. But a major blackout will leave the city non-functioning and for this, the state and Central government needs to sit together and work out effective policies to prevent a repeat of 2012.
The author ‘Chhaya Bhardwaj’ is an environmental law scholar. Views expressed are personal.