Home / Industry / Energy /  Drop in power demand due to Holi may destabilize India’s electricity grid

New Delhi: Even as India gears up to celebrate Holi on Monday, the national grid operator is concerned that the expected drop in demand starting Sunday may destabilize the country’s electricity grid.

Power System Operation Corp. Ltd (Posoco), which oversees electricity load management and is a unit of state-owned Power Grid Corp. of India Ltd, expects demand to drop by around 5,000 megawatts (MW) and is working towards mitigating the impact.

This fall in demand is expected due to the improved weather and the extended weekend, with offices being closed for the Holi festival.

Posoco’s concern comes in the backdrop of India’s worst power outage in 2012. While the country has an installed power generation capacity of 234,000MW, the daily generation is only about 125,000MW.

“We are expecting the demand to come down on account of Holi. We have to prepare the plan in the event of such a drastic dip as the transmission system needs to be stabilized," said a Posoco official, requesting anonymity.

India has an inter-regional electricity transmission capacity of 37,000MW, of which only 17,000MW can be transferred. Investments in transmission and distribution have not been commensurate with the investments made in generation.

Posoco’s concerns come shortly after the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission, the country’s apex power sector regulator, dismissed the findings of an investigation into the 2012 grid failure and ordered notices be issued to those responsible for triggering it.

The August 2012 report by A.S. Bakshi, former chairman of the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), blamed the outage on a dangerous imbalance—too much power being drawn by northern states such as Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, and too little of it by those in the west.

India’s grid security has come under greater scrutiny with transmission projects having limited surveillance facility being on terrorists’ threat lists. States have been working towards the so-called islanding or defence mechanisms that are capable of isolating the fallout of a disturbance in the national power grid and restricting it to a particular region, or allowing a particular region or essential service to isolate itself in the event of a grid failure.

The expected drop in demand comes at a time when peak power and energy shortage have reduced, according to CEA, the country’s apex power sector planning body.

Analysts disagree.

“The Central Electricity Authority has reported that in FY14 the power deficit is significantly lower than in FY13 (4.3% compared with 8.8% in FY13), mainly as power demand is virtually static (1% YoY increase YTD), meaning that on a per-capita basis, demand is falling. We believe this reflects distribution companies’ inability/unwillingness to buy enough power," UBS Global Equity Research wrote in a 21 February report.

“It is a structural problem and would be resolved only by a) regular and sufficient tariff hikes, b) reduced aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses, c) financial support to SEBs (state electricity boards) in the interim, and d) public opinion opposing power cuts. A debt package for SEBs is a right step but that alone would not be enough unless supported by operational improvements in the distribution sector," it said.

A grid collapse is the worst-case scenario for any transmission utility. India’s worst blackout left nearly 620 million people without electricity. On 31 July 2012, the northern grid collapsed, and on 1 August, in a wider blackout, the northern, eastern and north-eastern grids broke down.

India has five regional grids—northern, southern, eastern, north-eastern and western—and all are connected to the national grid.

Regional load despatch centres (RLDCs) are responsible for maintaining grid discipline and supervising optimum scheduling and delivery of electricity in their regions, and function under Posoco. The country has 33 state load despatch centres, five RLDCs—for the five regional grids, and one national load dispatch centre.

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