No more blackouts from April 1: yet another pre-election jumla?

Shankar Sharma

“Consumers will get uninterrupted power supply from April 1 and building blocks for this are all in place”, according to power minister RK Singh, as quoted by the Economic Times.

One wonders whether the honorable minister is getting the much needed and proper advise by his bureaucrats, OR is it just the case of simple bravado keeping in view the forthcoming elections.  Is there anything he has been told by his advisers, which is not clearly visible to the observers?
” .. building blocks for this are all in place ..”  What buildings blocks is he referring to, which are not at all visible for power system observers?  No state is talking about such assured supply. Except, perhaps, for few Metropolitan cities, electricity supply is not assured for all others. In most rural areas, people are happy to get power supply just at night when it is most needed. 

With so many crises going on in the power sector of the country, and without any credible set of policies, it would be unrealistic for the minister to dream of uninterrupted power supply, unless the very definition of uninterrupted power is different in his view as compared to what we all generally know or what is generally understood in the power sector parlance. Let us hope that it is not similar to  the case of 100% electrification, which the present govt. is also talking about. 

National energy policy is not finalised yet though the draft was circulated in June 2017.  CEA says that no additional power capacity is needed to be built between 2017 and 2027. Once the minister even talked about exporting electricity,  Very often, even in late 2018, many generating companies complained of inadequate supply of coal. While there are reports about stranded assets and very low PLF, there are also reports about load shedding. There is a talk about the need to continue to import coal. Large number of power plants are being planned and built. There is no definiteness of  the energy policy;  one million households are not electrified yet, and there is an ever growing demand for electricity due to industrialization and commercialization of the life of our communities. And most importantly, the agencies, which should be responsible for credible load forecasting and generation planning, seem to be doing a guess work instead of informed forecasting. In view of the largely unmet demand of our communities (as highlighted by load shedding and scheduled power cuts), if the uninterrupted power supply is assumed to be in place, will our system be able to meet all the demand satisfactorily?

Probably, no state in the country can boast of such uninterrupted power supply even for few months at a stretch. Such is the scenario in our country with scheduled and unscheduled power cuts so common in rural areas, and in many urban areas too.  Agricultural sector gets supply for less than 25% of the day in most of the states. And our distribution system has become so unreliable so that no consumer can be sure of reliable supply even for 10 -12 hours at a stretch.  States like TN are not even able to evacuate the wind power generated in that state satisfactorily.  Load shedding is a common phenomenon, that people have even stopped worrying about the supply reliability because of which UPS systems and diesel generators are being used so widely. The issues such as RE subsidy, agricultural subsidy, T&D losses, tendering for solar power, import duty on solar panel import, revenue realisation, financial losses of companies etc. do not appear to be resolved any soon. How can the uninterrupted power supply can happen in such a scenario?  The signals to the investors in power generation seem to be one of chaotic; not known whether to invest in coal or solar or wind; not known whether one should invest in energy storage systems or what else?
It is hard to imagine as to what assurances were given by whom  for the minister to seek uninterrupted power supply in the Indian scenario as of now?  It will be a miracle if such a scenario comes alive even by April 2022, unless there are very many enabling policy initiatives on a priority basis planned and implemented with determination by all the players.

In this scenario, it will be a very brave statement for anyone, more so far a Union Minister, to guarantee  uninterrupted power supply for India. Having said all these, it will be a miracle and unbelievable achievement, if our country can move over to a regime of uninterrupted power supply all over the country in next  3- 4  years. It would be advisable for the honorable minister to closely liaise with NITI Aayog to finalise a credible energy policy soon,  ask CEA to diligently undertake the study on load / generation balance for the next year, 5 years or 10 years ably assisted by effective consultation with the interested civil society groups and domain experts, and then bring in vastly more discipline to the entire sector than that has been prevailing for many years.

The author is an eminent power policy analyst

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