By Tripti Lahiri/AFP
New Delhi: The fear of power cuts soars when sweltering summer heat arrives in India, spurring demand for generators as electricity-starved residents increasingly produce their own power.
Except for VIPs in official bungalows, everyone from stall-holders to former ambassadors are hit by the power outages, and those who can afford it are increasingly making alternative arrangements.
The shopkeepers at New Delhi’s popular Janpath tourist bazaar are a case in point, as all now have portable petrol generators.
When the power fails, sometimes for hours on end, the road becomes a thicket of cables and a cacophony of chugging machines.
“Business people cannot sell without light,” said Satinder Grover, 55, who runs a traditional Indian shoe store. “Power is a necessary item, the goverment must take care.”
The government says the gap between electricity supply and demand nationwide averages up to 14% at peak times. Even so not everybody gets power — only 44% of rural Indian households have access to grid electricity.
Business body Assocham predicts generator sales will jump more than 20% this summer. Private generators currently supply 25,000 megawatts, the power ministry estimates, equal to 20% of India’s grid power.
It is no longer just businesses that invest in large generators — households are increasingly turning to private power sources.
In May, former Indian diplomats installed back-up diesel generators at their east Delhi retirement complex, built two decades ago.
“At that time maybe there was an expectation things would get better,” said Kalarickal Pranchu Fabian, a former ambassador who now heads the complex’s management committee.
“Over the years people have become less convinced they could expect an improvement in the immediate future,” said Kalarickal, who estimated that the complex suffered 300 hours of outages last year.
Just not enough
About 150 families signed up for the back-up power scheme, each contributing up to Rs50,000 ($1,190). The generator power will cost almost Rs10 a unit, twice that of grid power.
But this summer residents of the complex will not have to worry about whether they can use their air-conditioners when temperatures pass 40 degrees Celsius.
There just isn’t enough power to go around, says Shubhra Puri, editor of electricity magazine “Power Line”. India only has about 600 kilowatt-hours of electricity per capita — half as much as war-torn Iraq.
“We are so power-starved that no matter whatever little management jugglery they do, there is going to be a blackout,” said Puri.
It is no wonder that even the country’s leader despairs of whether there will be enough power to keep the economy growing at nine percent a year.
“The scene in the power sector does not look very promising,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said last week. “One area in which performance has not been up to the mark is in capacity addition.”
The power ministry says everyone will have an electricity connection by 2012 and that generation will rise to 212,000mw.
That would involve adding 80,000mw in the next five years — four times as much as India was able to add in the last five years.
Playing it safe, most new housing complexes being built around sprawling Indian cities include generator backup.
Electricity consultants like Keshava Narayan are working overtime to keep up with demand.
Narayan, who helped the retired diplomats install their generators, did the same for the capital’s colonial-era Gymkhana Club.
Some towns have started including generators in their planning.
In Pune, in western Maharashtra state, industries are asked to use generators at peak times, even when their grid power has not cut out. Their share of the grid power then goes to residents who would otherwise face cuts.
Consumers who use more than a fixed amount of electricity each month pay a surcharge to the companies to reimburse them for fuel.