On July 30, 2012 a power blackout temporarily obliterated electricity from half of the country and wreaked havoc on the lives of over 620 Million people in 22 of the northern and northeastern states. (Source: Wikipedia) This was the worst power outage since the last major grid collapse in 2001. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that major outages are not a rare occurrence. As per this recent Bloomberg article, the nation suffers from frequent power outages that last 10 hours. Persistent power failures, known as ‘load shedding’, are organized day in, day out in a great many places across the country by the power providers in an attempt to keep power production, and the grid, up. (Source: An Uncertain Glory) Nor would it be so bad if those 620 Million people who were affected had electricity. A third of the population in those regions, living in poverty (or, more accurately, squalor), never had power to begin with.
As it stands, peak supply, which was approximately 205,000 megawatts in 2012, fell short of demand by about 9%, and the situation is only getting worse. And it’s not being helped by the shift from predominantly a government-owned system towards one based on market principles, as this does nothing to insure that anyone who isn’t a large corporation or extremely wealthy or influential individual gets reliable power. As per the IEA’s (International Energy Agency’s) Understanding Energy Challenges in India, the huge blackouts that occurred in northern India in July 2012 could be seen as a consequence within the framework of incomplete market liberalization. Simply put, The goal of providing energy access to the entire population led to well-meaning policies designed to protect the poor, but resulted in a system of untargeted producer and consumer subsidies that prevent a more thorough implementation of a well-functioning and financially-sound energy sector.
And getting to a sound and reliable energy sector is no easy task. First of all, the six issues addressed in the IEA’s report need to be dealt with:
- The core (production) capacities of the energy companies need to be improved in a financially viable way.
- Pricing mechanisms must ensure commercial viability (but not price energy out of the range of the low-end consumer).
- Significant investment is required to meet the growing energy demand and provide access to all citizens — and it must come from the government.
- The effective implementation of policies is required and this must lead to the timely, on-budget, completion of energy projects.
- The energy policy must be integrated and consistent as multiple objectives will undermine the policy and its implementation.
- Strong political will is required as effective policy implementation will never materialize without it.
And then India will have to deal with:
- Getting energy theft and transmission loss under control. It is estimated that 27% of energy generated is lost in transmission or stolen. This is intolerable considering the country can’t even meet demand at peak capacity.
- Getting electronic payment and transfer mechanisms set up and in place. Money will need to flow from the federal government through the states to the districts who will have to then distribute the money to the private companies expanding the infrastructure. Considering that corruption is still rampant in India and administrative fees often at the discretion of the local officials, unless all money allocated to the energy infrastructure is electronically transferred and tracked, and the records made public, it can be assumed that at least 2% of this money will disappear due to corruption, which has cost India at least 345 Billion over the last decade. (Source: India Express)
- Getting the population educated on safe and sustainable energy use. First of all, the country will need to invest in renewable options, which could be expensive when compared to, say, dirty coal. Secondly, the population and their government, which may want to spend the money elsewhere, will need to agree to the appropriate expenditure. Thirdly, they will make sure they are pugged into the grid safely and securely using modern, approved, legal technology. Otherwise, they may find that their meter bursts into flames when their power consumption is at its peak or their houses catch on fire because of unsafe, illegal hookups. (Unfortunately, neither of these situations is a rare occurrence in India.)
This is a tall order for a country that is faced with many serious problems, financial needs, and political divides, which are likely to get worse before they get better. If India can’t get its energy crisis under control, how will it continue to play effectively in global supply chains?