Power crisis: Are we in for another sizzling summer?

Will we have to eat dinner in the dark again this year? (Francis Mascarenhas/ Reuters)
Will we have to eat dinner in the dark again this year? (Francis Mascarenhas/ Reuters)


  • Every year, India sees a lot of power cuts during the peak summer season. Will this year be any different?

A sizzling heat wave is stretching India’s power infrastructure. In fact, the power deficit in June is projected to be the highest in 14 years. Mint looks at the factors causing it, steps the government has taken, and whether a crisis can be avoided this time around.

Is India heading for a power crisis?

It appears so, if electricity demand and supply projections are to be believed. It is estimated that the power deficit—that’s the gap between electricity demand and availability—at night-time in June is likely to be the widest since June 2010. The demand is pegged at 235 Giga Watts (GW) while the supply is projected at 221 GW, leaving a gap of 14 GW. On 18 May, the peak power demand for this summer season touched 229.60 GW and this is expected to increase further—indeed, the India Meteorological Department expects the severe heat wave conditions to continue for a few more weeks.

Why isn’t supply keeping up?

The reasons are familiar—delayed projects and poor storage levels in reservoirs. Coal-fired power projects with a capacity to produce 3.6 GW of power, which were scheduled to go onstream in March this year, have been delayed. Hydro power generation has fallen steeply to the lowest level in four decades due to low water levels in reservoirs. That apart, renewable energy output has been flat and has not compensated for the shortfall from other sources of electricity. What has made things worse is the above -normal maximum temperature, which will ease only after the onset of the South-West monsoon.

Isn’t this crisis an annual affair?

India suffers from power shutdowns every summer. What is new this time is the night-time power shortage. In the past, the daytime power deficit was the norm due to strong industrial demand. With the setting up of solar capacity, which grew 4x in the past five years, daytime demand has been met. In the absence of this power source, the night-time deficit remains unbridged.

What steps has the government taken?

The Centre has deferred planned maintenance of power plants, re-started five coal-fired units idling for inefficient operations, and invoked a 21-year-old emergency provision to allow imported coal-fired and gas-based power plants to operate at full capacity. It has asked all thermal power plants to work at full capacity. Thankfully, there is no shortage of coal stocks at power plants. All of them have adequate stocks to ramp up power generation. The government has also fast-tracked completion of delayed power projects.

Can power demand be better managed?

As a growing economy, India’s power demand will continue to increase rapidly. Capacity additions have to be planned and executed in a time-bound manner. Having some buffer capacity will help. As India focuses on renewable energy, especially solar, it needs to look at battery storage options. That will help store solar power for night-time use. The country’s power-mix should also have a right balance of thermal, gas-based power and renewable energy to manage sudden demand spikes better.

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