New Delhi: India may delay annual repair and maintenance of 16% of its thermal power generation capacity during the monsoon due to soaring demand and lower output from hydropower plants plagued by weak rainfall.
The Union government plans to ask utilities, which together generate some 15,000MW of electricity, to keep their plants running.
According to the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), India’s apex power sector planning body, there was a 8.9% deficit in India between April and May, with the northern, western, southern, eastern and north-eastern regions facing 8.2%, 12.2%, 7%, 5.3% and 13.9% deficits, respectively.
“During July and August, a large-scale of thermal units of around 15,000MW and above go for maintenance. This will now have to be staggered,” said Rakesh Nath, chairman, CEA. “With hydropower generation hit, thermal is the only option.”
India has an installed power generation capacity of 149,391MW, of which around 95,151MW is thermal-based and 36,877.76MW is hydro-based.
Such a directive could result in significant problems and potential power outages later as a delay in operation and maintenance would lower plant efficiencies.
Nath, however, defended the proposed move.
“Till the onset of monsoon, delaying the maintenance work will not affect the plants. Fifteen days or one month delay doesn’t mean much difference,” he said.
The India Meteorological Department has said that rainfall for the remaining monsoon months from July to September is likely to be 93% of the 50-year average that pegs the country’s normal rainfall at 89cm.
Rainfall in July—considered the most important monsoon month—is expected to be 93% of its 29cm average.
The June-September monsoon accounts for nearly 80% of the country’s annual rainfall and is vital for the economy, being the main source of water for agriculture and hydropower generation.
During the monsoon, when there’s a rise in hydroelectric generation, thermal generation units are usually shut for maintenance.
However, with hydroelectric generation remaining stagnant due to the poor rainfall, there is no cushion to meet the growing demand.
This is not the first time such a recourse is being tried.
The Union government had directed utilities such as NTPC Ltd not to shut their thermal power plants for repair and maintenance, Mint reported on 29 July 2008.
“While this is a problem on an annual basis, there is a larger long-term problem relating to the renovation and modernisation of plants. That needs to be addressed,” said Shubhranshu Patnaik, executive director at audit and consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Due to the shortage in generation, the rate of electricity in the power trading market has increased sharply to Rs12 a unit from Rs7.50 a unit last year.
“If monsoons would have broken, the prices would have fallen drastically to around Rs2 or Rs3 per unit. It happened last year, where some power could not be sold as the demand had cooled off,” said Tantra Narayan Thakur, chairman and managing director of PTC India Ltd, India’s largest power trading company.
The shortage of electricity, in turn, has led to states such as Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana overdrawing in excess of 1,000MW each in order to meet the growth in demand on account of rice sowing.
According to the Met department, north-western India is expected to face nearly 19% deficit in its rainfall quota.
“Excessive overdrawal by the states have become a routine. The Central Electricity Regulatory Authority is intervening and asking the states not to overdraw that is affecting the grid stability,” said a northern region load despatch centre official who didn’t want to be identified.
The centre is responsible for maintaining grid discipline and supervising optimum scheduling and despatch of electricity in the northern region.