Currently, this is the biggest power bottleneck
While the blame game for Tuesday’s day-long power outage in Mumbai will go on and the decisions of stakeholders may be justified depending on how one looks at it, the key takeaway for the government is that transmission capacity needs to be beefed up. Indeed, had the strength of grid lines transmitting electricity into Mumbai been adequate, the city could have imported some 1,500 MW of electricity which would have been enough to take care of the shortfall caused by the tripping of Tata Power’s 500MW Trombay Unit 5. So while BEST was well within its rights to refuse costlier power from Tata Power’s Unit 6—which is generated from diesel and hence costs around R12/ unit—that wouldn’t have been needed had it been possible to draw power from neighbouring areas. Nor is the problem restricted to Mumbai. In late-July 2012, the country saw its biggest blackout when the northern, eastern and north-eastern grids failed together, disrupting power supply in 22 states. The collapse was reportedly triggered by the overdrawing of power by
Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. It is true the errant states shouldn’t have overdrawn power, and the under-frequency relays which would have prevented this were not in place. In June this year, a storm in the capital disrupted transmission—the towers and lines of Delhi Transco were disabled—but since there wasn’t enough of a back-up for power to be imported into the city, consumers faced power cuts. The larger point, however, is that, apart from the grid being badly managed, there simply isn’t enough spare capacity being created in this vital aspect of the electricity network. Over the past five years, while transmission capacity has grown at 30%, generation capacity grew by over 50%. As a result, even the power capacity being created is in danger of getting wasted. Around 25,000 MW of capacity is in the process of coming up in the eastern region—26 power stations will be ready by 2017—but there is not enough transmission capacity to evacuate this power to the areas where it is required. Indeed, were the current coal shortage to get fixed miraculously, the severe transmission shortage would have shown up earlier. So, once the coal problem has been dealt with—should coal and gas price pooling be accepted, this will be resolved to a large extent—the power minister’s next task has to be to ensure his counterpart in environment is able to provide vital forest clearances in time.