New Delhi: Even as large parts of the country face a power shortage, around 30,000 MW—nearly enough to meet the combined demand of all south Indian states—is lying idle because of breakdowns and repair and maintenance work on power plants.

With India facing a peak electricity shortage of 3.7% in June, daily power outages have become a cause of concern for the government and been flagged in the internal meetings of the power ministry.

“There is a daily outage of more than 30,000 MW," said a government official, requesting anonymity.

The southern region, which includes the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and the Union territories of Puducherry and Lakshadweep, had a peak demand of 36,181 MW in June, of which 33,698 MW was met, according to the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), India’s apex power sector planning body.

India’s per capita power sector consumption, around 940 kilo watt-hour (kWh), is among the lowest in the world. In comparison, China has a per capita consumption of 4,000 kWh, with the developed countries averaging around 15,000 kWh of per capita consumption.

“The generation outage is primarily due to repair and maintenance of power generation projects and breakdown of old units. There are two types of outages—planned outages and breakdowns. It is a cause of concern," said a second government official, who also didn’t want to be identified.

There have been instances when soaring electricity demand and lower output from hydro power plants have delayed annual repair and maintenance work on thermal power plants during the monsoon season, exposing the coal-fired generation units to the risk of breakdown.

Queries e-mailed to a power ministry spokesperson remained unanswered.

While India has installed power generation capacity of 249,488.31 MW, daily generation is only to the tune of 135,000 MW. Analysts say the data doesn’t capture the real demand, ascribing the lower deficit to the unwillingness of state electricity boards (SEBs) to buy enough power because they cannot afford to do so.

Power distribution companies owned by state governments owe 2 trillion to lenders. This has reduced their ability to buy power. This is exacerbated by India’s aggregate transmission and commercial (AT&C) losses, which are at 26% of generation.

“This inefficiency is the main cause of high power tariff which ultimately leads to lower demand from SEBs," UBS Global Equity Research said in a 31 July report.

Analysts also expressed concerns about the outages.

“Electricity power systems have to maintain certain margins to maintain certain level of reliability taking into account planned and unplanned shutdowns—this explains the difference between installed capacity and met demand," said Debasish Mishra, senior director, consulting, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India Pvt. Ltd.

“We now have almost 250 GW (giga watts) of capacity, while the catered demand is only around 135 GW. Typically, for a supply mix like that of ours, 30% is a reasonable system margin. Right now, we are having more than 45% margin. This effectively means there is lots of unplanned shutdowns in the system because of older generating assets, hydro power not catering to peak because of bad operation planning and possibly fuel shortage," Mishra added.

The issue assumes significance given India’s worst blackout that left nearly 620 million people without electricity in 2012. On 31 July, the northern grid collapsed, and on 1 August, in a wider blackout, the northern, eastern and north-eastern grids broke down.

It was the largest known blackout in world history, Piyush Goyal, minister in charge of power, coal, and new and renewable energy, informed Parliament on 6 August. “Loss of load probability (LOLP) is an important element in electricity system planning. India follows a 0.2% LOLP, while advanced countries follow 0.1%, which effectively means that our system is designed to have maximum disruption of 16-18 hours in a year while in advanced countries it is less than 10 hours. To maintain higher reliability, system has to maintain higher margin," Mishra said.

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