Electricity consumption in Chennai is going to almost double by 2020

Chennai is a power guzzler. Annually, it consumes about 13,000 million units of electrical energy, more than Bangalore which is of a comparable size. The city hosts less than 10 per cent of the State’s population but takes away about 18 per cent of its electrical energy.

In a business-as-usual scenario, Chennai’s electricity consumption is going to almost double by 2020 and that is not good news. The city is pampered. Compared to other towns, Chennai suffers just two hours of power cut. Given the city’s growth, increase in consumption is inevitable, but in a few sectors, developments have not been responsible: commercial and residential buildings, in particular, need serious rethinking.

The Eighteenth Electrical Power Survey (ministry of power) pointed out that consumption in Chennai’s commercial sector increased from 563 million units in 1999 to 1,950 million units in 2010. This is set to grow further and touch 3,300 million units by 2020. The increase is mainly attributed to the growing numbers of malls and commercial centres. But how long can Chennai make unfair demands on the rest of the State?

As the city’s economy shifts towards the service sector, increasing demand for office space will have to be met. But there is a choice in terms of how we build. When the rest of the State is struggling to service small-scale industries and irrigation activities, providing unhindered power to airconditioned, upmarket malls may cause an outrage. These leisure places should be made to compulsorily harvest power from their own solar roof-tops. The idea of a mall as an excessively airconditioned retail box is also flawed. Building more open and well-ventilated bazaars could be more sustainable and even socially desirable.

Some may argue Bangalore has a better climate and residents there do not have to use fans and lights as much as people in Chennai do. Hence the city consumes less power. That is partly true, but the fact remains that many apartments in Chennai are among the poorly-designed. They hardy make use of daylight. Ventilation and energy efficiency are not criteria for consideration. As a result, lights often burn for long hours, and without fans, it is impossible to stay indoors.

This increase is not proportionate to the increase in population, it is rather on the higher side. In other words, per capita consumption within the city is going to increase. By 2020, the domestic sector in Chennai would consume about 6,500 million units — an almost 50 per cent increase from the current levels. To add to the woes, the city loses as much as 15 per cent of electricity in transmission. We can ask the State government to improve infrastructure, reduce transmission loss and explore alternate forms of energy. Consumers also have equal responsibility. A great deal could be achieved through sensible building practices and regulating consumption. Simple measures such as well-designed sunshades, cool roofs and wise choice of materials have a lot of potential to reduce the energy burden. Domestic appliances, in particular, must be carefully chosen for their energy rating. The current power crisis is an opportunity to reflect and change course.

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