600 million in dark over massive Indian power outages

Having a stable power supply is something that I have always taken for granted in Australia. But not so in India, where dealing with load shedding and power cuts is part of daily life. So much so that most hospitals, large apartment complexes and hotels have alternate power supply and backup generators to deal with the inconvenience.

But last week was somewhat different, as India experienced the world’s largest power cut, far surpassing any regular scheduled cuts. A grid failure of the north, eastern and north eastern grids took out the nation’s capital, New Delhi and affected over 600 million people. If you consider the fact that is almost twice the entire population of the USA, one gets a sense of the sheer scale of the impact. Trains were left stranded on the tracks, metros were closed and traffic chaos ensued. One Wall Street Journal reporter wrote this satirical take on the issue – 1.2 Billion Indians hit by leadership outage, highlighting the lack of national leadership at a time of crisis.

Power in rural Punjab

In recent years India’s demand for energy has outstripped the government’s ability to construct the necessary infrastructure and, given that one third of households still have no access to electricity, this gap will no doubt persist as they are connected to the grid.

Given India’s reliance on backup diesel generators, an incident of this scale is extremely expensive and has negative implications for the environment. If nothing else, it highlights the importance of finding alternative, reliable and sustainable sources of energy.

However, in the short term, there is no reprieve in sight for locals.  According to historical data on power consumption, there is expected to be even greater electricity demand in August and surely more power cuts to follow.

As the Huffington Post reported, “the power deficit was worsened by a weak monsoon that lowered hydroelectric generation and kept temperatures higher, further increasing electricity usage as people seek to cool off.A weak monsoon has also meant that the key farming states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are overdrawing power to ensure that farmers can use water pumps to irrigate their crops. Whilst technically states should face large fines for overdrawing, as with so many things in India, these fines are often not enforced.

To add further fuel to the fire, the Indian grids face substantial network losses, some of which is from unauthorized wiring that taps into the electrical system.

I will be very interested to see how all of these factors play out in the weeks and months ahead and how the Indian government goes about resolving the issue and restoring confidence in the government and the economy more broadly.


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