New Delhi: Thick smog, now an annual phenomenon in northern India due to burning of husk by farmers in the states of Punjab and Haryana, combined with pollution has exposed the region to the risk of power blackouts, said several people in the know of the matter.

Fog and pollution can trigger blackouts. Fog makes power transmission lines moist; atmospheric pollution then sticks to the lines; over time, the lines become caked in dust, resulting in short circuits that lead to tripping. If unchecked, the result could be a collapse of the power grid.

Insulators hold the key to avoid tripping.

“If humidity increases and pollution level remains the same, there are chances that there will be insulators failure and grid may get impacted. India has gone for composite insulators that may help bear the impact," said R.P.Singh, former chairman and managing director at state run Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd (PGCIL).

Several incidents of electric tripping have taken place in the past because of the smog, which has also reduced visibility in places like Delhi. India’s electricity load management functions are overseen by Power System Operation Corp. Ltd (Posoco) with the national grid capable of transferring 99,000 MW of electricity from any corner of the country. India has an installed power generation capacity of 363,369.59 MW.

“The conventional (porcelain/glass) insulators used in POWERGRID’s transmission lines in pollution prone sensitive areas have been strategically replaced with modern polymer based insulators to avoid trippings," said a PGCIL spokesperson in an emailed response.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) at Mandir Marg in New Delhi was 472 at 3 am on Tuesday. The states at risk of electricity outages include Punjab and Haryana.

This comes in the backdrop of the Supreme Court on Monday lashing out at the entire government machinery of four states and the Centre, saying they have failed to tackle the air pollution choking Delhi and its neighbouring areas, while passing a series of orders with fines of up to Rs1 lakh for those found contributing to the crisis.

A grid collapse is the worst-case scenario for any transmission utility. India faced massive power transmission failures in July 2012, which left around 700 million people without electricity. The issue has assumed greater importance as the country now has an integrated national power grid, with south India joining the national electricity grid in January 2014.

Queries emailed to a power ministry spokesperson on Monday remained unanswered.

Grid frequency is a critical aspect of power system operations. Global standards require that grid frequency be kept close to 50 hertz (Hz).

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