Crosspost for my colleague Chaitanya Kumar at 350 India
The new power minister, Verappa Moily, has ordered an inquiry into the reasons behind the recent blackout that brought down the highly connected northern power grid and left 600 million people without electricity. Essential services like the public transport (metros), hospitals, traffic lights etc were not operational for many hours as chaos prevailed in most parts of the country. Much has been said and written about the blackout and India’s immediate need to revamp its electricity distribution system to ensure quality supply and besides the distribution, the production of electricity needs to be understood and addressed if we are to resolve the power crisis for good.
As the complexity in grid connectivity grows every year with more and more states trading power with each other, minor glitches anywhere in the system could potentially lead to a collapse as seen here. Power plants are being set up in regions with higher availability of coal like Chattisgargh, Madhya Pradesh etc and the energy produced is sold to other parts of the country through transmission and distribution lines that run over a hundred thousand kilometers across India. Centralized grid power has grown leaps and bounds over the past 3 decades but it has still been an incredible challenge to provide power to 350 million Indians who continue to live in the dark.
The great Indian blackout has been a great wake up call for India that raises pertinent questions about our reliance on centralized grids for power, and fossil fuels as the primary source of energy. With over 25% of electricity produced being lost in transmission, distribution and pilferage; the notion of centralized grids to provide energy access for all will be a distant dream as any additional capacity generation will only enter a leaking bucket. Slashing T&D losses to international standards (7-10%) could provide enough power to bridge the demand supply deficit that India faces, this coupled with more decentralized energy provisions can ensure a reliable supply of power that can be managed much more easily than the existing centralized grid systems.
The proponents of coal along with the media have not wasted much time to blame the crisis on the lack of clearances for coal mining and power generation projects that could have otherwise filled the current power deficit. This argument has already been squashed by the environment ministry which has generously granted permissions for projects worth 210,000 MW’s till 2011 which is even higher than the targeted capacity addition till 2017! With rising coal prices and a growing grassroots movement against power projects and mining, the time is ripe to factor in the true cost of coal which includes the detrimental impacts on the environment, people’s health and wildlife.
An energy upgrade for India will involve a massive dose of decentralized renewable energy that will substitute and not just add capacity to the existing fossil fuel driven centralized grid energy. The wake up call should drive India towards identifying and implementing solutions that will holistically address larger issues of energy security and climate change. We are pushing the Prime Minister of India to invest heavily in grid efficiency and decentralized renewable energy.
Sign this petition www.350.org/upgrade and push the Indian policy makers to use this crisis as an opportunity to set India on a clean and sustainable energy future.