Thursday, September 20, 2012
By Darshan Goswami, M.S., P.E.
On July 30th and 31st, the world’s largest blackout – The Great Indian Outage, stretching from New Delhi to Kolkata – occurred. This blackout caused by northern power grid failure left nearly 700 million people – twice the population of the U.S. – without electricity. A grid failure of this magnitude has thrown light on the massive demand for power in a country and its struggle to generate a much-needed power supply.
India aims to expand its power-generation capacity by 44 percent over the next five years. In June, the country’s power generation fell short by 5.8 percent against a peak-hour demand for 128 gigawatts, according to government data. India is divided into five regional grids, which are all interconnected, except for the southern grid. All the grids are being run by Power Grid, which operates more than 100,000 kilometers of electricity transmission lines.
Serious concerns have been once again raised about the country’s growing infrastructure and inability to meet its energy needs. Government officials have concluded, “The grid failed because of the overloading of power,” and contend that “many states” try to take more power than they are allotted from the grid.
The country’s lack of energy security is a major constraint to its capacity to generate power. The slow pace of tariff reforms is hindering infrastructure investment at the state level in most parts of the country. The centralized model of power generation, transmission and distribution is growing more and more costly to maintain at current levels to meet increasing energy needs. The blackout and shortage of power are hampering India’s economic growth and its capacity for growth.
So what can the world’s biggest democracy do to help eliminate such wide-sweeping outages in the future? Government should assess how best to address the power needs to meet the future growth and prevent such massive power failures. India’s power blackout is an opportunity for developing sustainable energy. India urgently needs to develop and deploy large-scale renewable energy to end its power grid outages. I have addressed these concerns in my presentation, Renewable Energy Solutions For India – A Strategic Development Plan, and in the following published papers: How Concentrated Solar Power Can Meet India’s Future Power Needs, Solar Farming Potential in India, How To Empower India With Big Solar Energy Plans, and Full version: India’s Solar Sunrise – Renewable Energy Focus.
For economic as well as environmental reasons, India needs to shift to non-polluting renewable sources of energy. Renewable energy is the most attractive investment because it will provide long-term economic growth for India. Decentralized off-grid renewable distributed generation sources like solar, wind, hydro, biomass, biogas, geothermal, hydrogen energy and fuel cells are the answers. These sources have the advantage of empowering people at the grassroots level and utilize distribution and transmission methods with little to no emissions. India should consider developing targets for electrification that include renewable off-grid options and/or renewable powered mini-grids. This will take a substantial electrical load off the existing power grid and also reduce the need for installing additional transmission and distribution systems.