India just had the mother of all blackouts in the last week of July, causing the most populated northern half of the nation to come to a halt, without a viable recourse to an alternate source of energy for a couple of days. This blackout due to systemic issues has now highlighted the consistent failure of the government to apply best practises to the industry.
The country has been adding coal power projects at a breakneck pace for the last decade now with scant regard to environment, process and rule of law. Politicians using the electricity board as personal election sops has created a labyrinth that no one wants to own. Push for grid power without a balance of off-grid generation has created too much dependence on inefficient methods of generation, transmission and distribution
I have covered this in much detail in my article – India’s transmission and distribution – its time to transform however this post is to refresh those who haven’t read it yet and to help avoid the same mistakes just because everyone’s doing it. Herd mentality has caused the current downfall of the power generators who are stuck with billions of debt on their balance sheets and no recourse but to pass on the bad planing and execution to the already inflation burdened consumers of the nation. This coupled with shoddy quality of equipment and staff has impacted the quality of life of every citizen while promoting an opaque system.
The lessons we learn should stay with us and not be forgotten in a few months as is the case always. Below are the remedial actions I had originally suggested with a few more added in solutions below.
- Privatize, Privatize, Privatize……
- Decentralize power generation and consumption
- Promote power saving and efficient technologies to the hilt
- Ensure recover of dues aren’t tied to political agendas
- Large consumers of power should be audited regularly and wasteful use penalized
- Mandate LEED certifications for all commercial premises including already built ones
- Allocate coal and gas to only those plants which are in the mid-high efficiency bracket
- Promote off grid solutions aggressively for lighting, agriculture, heating, cooling based – on solar, wind, biomass combined with energy storage
- Include the availability of capital subsidies of more than 50% in special cases which is currently varied and tops off at 30%
- Introduce an interactive grid at the earliest, which can source intelligently both locally as well off the national grid
- Immediately introduce a Feed In Tariff for renewable energy installations in residential use below 50 KW size with increased pay out rates for scheduled peak hour grid infusion
- Immediately upgrade old transmission lines and equipment at key locations, reduce burnouts
- Plan for growth with actionable items if certain thresholds are met in power generation and consumption
- Use penalties created using REC as well as those funds recovered based on generation and distribution utilities inefficiencies to subsidize local generation
- Increase the capital subsidy KW scale for solar, biomass while keeping the power purchase rates down by levying a carbon cess on all power generated using non-renewables
- Introduce a green charge per unit of power consumed by Industries and Commercial establishment
- Mandate the immediate use of 10-20% green energy sources for Industrial and Commercial with lucrative incentives for achieving higher use
- Strictly regulate carbon emitters and introduce an exponential carbon tax for regular defaulters
- Privatize power distribution, especially those with more than 15% annual losses
- Act on distribution utilities with AT&C losses above 10% especially those turning a blind eye to theft by incentivizing improvements and dis-incentivizing waste
- Have state government subsidize organizations that provide power based on off grid models in their areas based on savings rendered
- Mandate the use of Solar Water Heating in all residential and commercial units in all urban areas, new and existing.
Here’s some additional measures which can help the country achieve additional energy security and stability
- Source rural power from within a 50 mile radius
- Subsidize solar heating and lighting from the current 30% levels to 70-80% or even 90% for that matter
- Promote rural rooftop solar heating and lighting
- Promote local generation companies by increasing capital subsidies for localized generation to 50%
- Promote local NGOs with an agenda on self-sustenance
- Educate students on local energy solutions
- Deploy sample fully funded project within a 50 mile radius, while handing over management to local users through a transparent mechanism
- Close complaints of theft, loss etc within a fixed period failing which the local discom is penalized or also incentivized based on the success
- Hold district / panchayat seminars on methods of energy self sufficiency
- Allow easy access to interest free loans for solar, wind and biomass generation for residential purposes
- Localize discoms to a 30 mile radius in rural areas with local consumers on the management board
- Maintain a strict audit on a periodic basis, even better is to automate the entire audit, reporting and penalization process
- Ensure we privatize energy bill collections
- No longer allow basic necessities like energy, food and basic infrastructure to be a poll plank for politicians
- For every MW of grid power, an equivalent local renewable source should be promoted in the rural and semi-urban areas
The issues are many but not without solutions. The loss for every MW on the grid is enough to power 400 urban or a 1000 rural houses and we lose 60,000-80,000 MW’s of power annually to theft, inefficient transmission and distribution.
To quantify the problem, our annual Transmission & Distribution loss of Rs. 75,000/- crores on the grid, is enough to completely subsidize the annual capital requirements of
- 75 Million – Solar Home Lighting Systems
- 15 Million – Solar Agricultural Pump Sets
- 12,500 MW – Biomass Power plants (6%+ of our total energy generation)
If you do the math, no house in India will be without power within the next 4 years no matter how far they are located from the grid.
Sadly energy utopia is still a long way off for India but the journey needs to begin today.