Can India keep up with the ebbs and flows of power demand?

The gradually increasing temperatures after February cause demand for power to soar across North India every year. (Image: Pixabay)
The gradually increasing temperatures after February cause demand for power to soar across North India every year. (Image: Pixabay)


  • Big jumps in power demand need managing. As do dips. And summers in north India see both, sometimes within the same day. For those entrusted with managing supply, it’s a challenge.

At 3.42 pm on 22 May, Delhi’s demand for electricity from the power grid broke all records, hitting 8,000 megawatts (MW). Already by 9 am that day, average temperatures tracked by the government’s weather stations across the city had crossed 42 degrees Celsius in some areas. Along with relative humidity of 35-40%, the actual weather ‘felt’ much hotter—close to 50 degrees in parts of the city. While Delhi is an extreme, it’s still a microcosm of the electricity-related challenges that several parts of India face in peak summers.

Temperatures are a good predictor of power demand. But they can vary sharply in a 24-hour span. In Delhi, on 22 May, as people headed to work, air-conditioners in offices were switched on, and demand for power picked up. As the day became increasingly hotter, shops and houses, too, switched on ACs. Power demand peaked around early evening, dropped for a couple of hours, and then rose again, as households switched on ACs in the night.

The gradually increasing temperatures after February cause demand for power to soar across North India every year. But even by its own standards, this year is looking particularly grim. As of 22 May, demand for power was already 50% above the average demand for the last week of February and early-March. Against that benchmark, demand rose in earlier years too, but by much less. For example, in 2023, also a very warm year, demand had risen by about 36% from the baseline of late February and early March.

Also read: The unusual electricity trends of 2023, explained

Sectoral variation

In India, demand for power principally comes from four types of consumers: industrial units, households (termed ‘domestic’ in industry parlance), the agriculture sector and commercial establishments (like shops, hotels and malls). Industry leads in electricity consumption, accounting for about 42% of consumption in 2022-23, marginally down from about 44% a decade ago. It is followed by domestic connections, which accounted for 26% of energy consumption in 2022-23. An important source of demand for power in rural areas is from agriculture, which accounts for 17% of total energy consumption.

All these consumer types have their individual patterns. Household demand for power varies sharply over the course of the day and across seasons, depending on the weather. Agricultural demand for power varies sharply across cropping seasons. Demand from industrial units and commercial establishments is much more stable than these two categories, remaining far less variable across the year. Further, demand from industrial consumers is significantly less on weekends and public holidays, when offices are closed.

Trends from 2023: Electricity use plunges in North, West India due to summer rains

Differences in demand for power over the course of the day, or across the year, between various types of consumers shows up in the way different parts of the country draw power from the grid. The western part of the country, with major industrial states like Maharashtra and Gujarat, show far less variation in demand for power across the year than northern India. That’s because states in western India have a higher proportion of power demand coming from industrial consumers, whose patterns of consumption are much more stable over the course of the year.

Also read: How India keeps up with its power needs, in 8 charts

Regional variation

In fact, the north, with a greater mix of domestic and agricultural consumers, shows a greater variation in demand over the course of the year than the rest of the country. According to an analysis of demand patterns across the country by Grid India, which manages the national power grid: “Even within a day the demand variation pattern of each region is quite unique. The demand of western region attains a peak mostly during the day time, whereas that of northern region almost in the late evening or at night."

Why do such sharp variations in demand, over a year, or even over the course of a single day or week matter? A power grid cannot ‘store’ electricity in the way that a mobile phone can, in its battery, and draw on that power when it’s needed. Supply has to meet demand in a power grid, and has to rise or fall as that demand rises or falls. A ‘base’ level of demand for power in a grid, which is always present, is met through thermal or nuclear plants.

The problem, however, is that thermal plants cannot ramp up their supply of electricity at the pace at which demand spikes during the course of a hot day. So, engineers who run the grid have to call upon nimbler sources of energy, such as that from renewable energy plants based on wind or solar, that can quickly increase their power supply to meet sudden jumps in demand from consumers. A well-functioning grid, therefore, has to plan to have a good mix of ‘baseload’ plants (from thermal or nuclear plants) and of ‘peaking’ plants (based on renewable energy or other sources). As this summer intensifies, this balancing act will be crucial. is a database and search engine for public data.

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