Home >Industry >Energy >Summer power cuts to add to covid woes

Power outages during summer could threaten the recovery process of covid patients who may require oxygen support at homes or hospitals without power backup, especially in rural India.

With the virus now spreading to villages and smaller towns, experts say that steady power supply is emerging as a key concern for those on medical equipment such as oxygen concentrators and ventilators.

“Both my parents who live in Meerut tested positive for covid in the second week of April, and we hastily arranged an oxygen concentrator at home, but frequent power cuts in the locality made it very difficult to maintain steady oxygen supply," said Rahul Agarwal, a Delhi-based entrepreneur. “We finally decided to bring my mother to Delhi after her condition started to worsen. She continues to be on oxygen support at home, but hopefully, the worst is behind us."

While Agarwal is among those who had the resources to manage the situation, for a large part of India, power outages pose a threat to public health during the pandemic.

“The availability of power per se is not a problem as we have enough generating capacity, and significant surplus, in fact. The problem, however, is at the local level distribution network," said Shantanu Dixit, group coordinator, Prayas, a Pune-based energy advocacy group that focuses on the healthcare sector.

“During summer, the electricity demand increases, and the distribution system, which is already fragile or not robustly built, gets overloaded, and power supply is interrupted," Dixit said.

With states announcing stricter restrictions and curfews, there are ominous signs already.

In December, three covid-19 patients in a Madhya Pradesh government hospital died after a power failure disrupted oxygen supply. More recently, a covid patient died in a Tamil Nadu hospital because of a power failure.

Experts said that rural India is likely to be the worst affected, with government data showing that nearly 39,000 health sub-centres in rural India were functioning without electricity supply.

In Jharkhand, 66% of sub-centres had no power supply, while the figure was 64% in Bihar.

“Though in Varanasi, power cuts have reduced over the past couple of years. In rural areas, continuity may be an issue. While I see continuous electricity supply at night in some places, it is not the same during the day," said Dr Vijaya Nath Mishra, professor of neurology at the Banaras Hindu University.

Dr Mishra, along with his colleagues, plans to visit villages in Uttar Pradesh with oximeters and sanitizers to check the oxygen levels of rural residents and send the ones with low oxygen levels for further assistance.

“The underlying data on power demand has so far not shown any signs of weakening. For April 2021, India’s power demand is trending up 42% year-on-year and 9% against April 2019 levels. In particular, power demand for states such as Gujarat and Maharashtra, which are key industrial regions, are up 48% and 36% year-on-year, respectively," said Motilal Oswal in a report dated 26 April.

Power generators have been struggling with mounting receivables from discoms.

However, the outstanding overdue of power distribution utilities fell by over 15,118 crore to 74,510 crore in March this year, against the preceding month.

In May last year, the northern part of the country, faced a searing heatwave.

The consequent need for cooling saw peak power demand soar to 163 gigawatts (GW), according to data from Power System Operation Corp.

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