On the eve of 30th of July, yet again India woke up to find itself plagued by the darkness of corruption and politics, but this time literally in the form of a “Power Crisis”. Weakness and instability of India’s power reforms, policy paralysis during UPA’s eight year tenure and the biggest blackout ever, as the Economist puts it ”Has made India feel like the giant set of a disaster movie”. The roots to the cause lie much far deeper than just failure of the system.
Just like other countries, India too had a modest beginning in electrical transmission grid. It started off decades ago as a large collection of state-level-networks with a few links among themselves. In the early 60’s the states slowly began developing links among their grid networks. But, it wasn’t till 2002 where the Northern, Western and Eastern grids were all linked up to form a “Superhighway” across central and east India. The commissioning of Agra and Gwalior link was crucial in sealing this mega loop.
The stability of the grids depends on a delicate equilibrium of demand-supply chain. The amount of load is directly proportional to the amount of power generated. When the equilibrium between power generated and power consumed gets disturbed, the load increases, tripping the line.
HOW IT ALL STARTED:
However the crucial question remains, why they were all linked up to form a Mega grid spanning across 8 of India’s most industrialized centers? The solution lies all in the basic fundamental of demand and supply. The coal fields of Chattisghad and Jharkhand are critical source for cheap coal. Rather than moving coal to where it is needed, it is lucrative to set up generating stations near coal fields and then distribute the power to consumers. Intra-Grid coordination for the movement of electricity is done by hierarchy of Load Dispatch Centers (LDC). This is where politics kicks in.
As obvious it may seem, overdrawing of power is not the reason. If Delhi, UP and other states withdrew excess power, then why would the grid fail only on those two days? And moreover there must be a registered frequency drop intermittently transmitted to all the states (Imagine a water tank with an inlet and outlet pipe, so if the rate of water flowing in from inlet pipe is lower compared to the rate at which it is being withdrawn, then the water level in the tank will drop) which was not to be.
So what exactly happened? Two of the grid components were weak (see image – next page), the western grids of Kankroli and Zerda were down due to repair and upgrade work. With these two important grids down, there was tremendous pressure on the remaining grids (specially the Agra-Gwalior) to bear the excess load, which eventually triggered a domino effect.
On July 29th, almost 1000MW of power was flowing through the Agra-Gwalior line, whereas the allowed limit for regular and safe use is 850MW. Can’t figure out why? Politics is the answer.
The lines are fitted with special circuit breakers which disconnect automatically once they register a sharp fall in frequency, signifying high loads. As the line disconnects, the supply for the rest of the grid should increase as the section of consumers have been cut off thereby bringing the demand supply back to sane conditions.
So the politicians buy their way through the system, tampering with the permissible frequency and load levels, which unsurprisingly lead to higher power transmission to their respective states (increasing cutoff levels to hazardous levels).
Grid economics has been constantly changing ever since the Mega Grid has been set up.
Apart from massive infrastructure, the economic policies also play a decisive role. For example: If on average, Delhi requires 2300MW for Sunday morning it makes an order to its supplier 24 hours in advance. And then if Delhi requires less power as the day progresses, they correspondingly reduce the supply. So for a few years now, the states started demanding more than they actually needed, overworking the grid when they demanded for 3500MW when only 3000MW was needed.
India is not the only country that suffers from grid issues. In 2003, there was a massive power failure in North America with New York plunging into darkness. But India seems to have suffered arguably the worst crisis in terms of the population that got affected.
One third of India’s household live in darkness and many still have limited access to electricity. Very little has been done to overcome these issues. Reforms such as refinancing Load Dispatch Centers (LDC) and also maintaining autonomy helps it from being tampered by politics.
Freeing up pricing to make consumers more responsible and also privatizing this sector to a large extent to introduce competition in generation, transmission and distribution.