On April 20, the peak demand for power in Karnataka was at 308 million units making it the highest demand ever in the recorded history of the State. In the last decade, Karnataka has gone from a power deficit State to a power-surplus State, majorly due to the shift towards renewable energy (RE). However, what is noteworthy is that despite these claimed improvements, power cuts have neither become a thing of the past nor has the tariff burden on the citizens reduced.
According to recent data, the installed power generation capacity in the State is roughly over 30,000 MW, and around 45% of this is Renewable Energy. In the last few years, there have been strong developments in this sector, including the inauguration and completion of Pavagada Solar Park in the years 2018 and 2019, respectively. The park alone is said to be the world’s third largest photovoltaic solar park with 2,050 MW capacity. The sector has also seen large-scale investments from the private sector.
In Bengaluru, which falls under the jurisdiction of Bangalore Electricity Supply Company (Bescom), the weather patterns might have become a little tricky recently, but rain or shine, citizens are sure that there will be a power interruption. While sometimes the power supply is turned off during heavy rains and winds as a preventative measure, on days when the temperature is higher, some lines of Bescom get damaged due to the heat. The quantum of power does not factor in when it comes to weather-related reasons.
Power infrastructure in city
The citizens by far, have been extensively demanding that Bescom should work on improving its infrastructure before anything else. “Every day, in Bengaluru, there are power disruptions. To attract votes, parties have promised free power and uninterrupted power, but no party is looking at the infrastructure problem. Sure, we have generation, but what about the infrastructure necessary for distribution and transmission?” asked M.G. Prabhakar, a former member of the advisory committee, Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission.
“There might be good availability of power, but there is no infrastructure to support it. There needs to be efficiency improvement when it comes to infrastructure to ensure that there is no outage during peak demand,” said Shrinath Bhandary U. Chairman, Energy Committee, KASSIA.
When it comes to transmission issues, the Energy Department argues that the transmission grids in the State to both evacuate and input power are of very good quality. Then what causes outages? “There has been a boom (10-15% increase) in the consumption of power in the State across all sectors (domestic, industrial, commercial and agricultural). While some are preventive outages, the other times it is due to the distribution transformers getting overloaded, which is progressively reducing now,” said Kapil Mohan, Additional Chief Secretary, Energy Department.
He added that a power surplus does not necessarily mean a surplus at all times due to natural factors and fluctuating demand. “In summer, the demand shoots up, and at those times, we are required to buy power, even if it is in small quantities. But come monsoon, hydel plants will be at full capacity and demand goes down and then, we would be able to sell power,” Mr Mohan said.
Although tariff revision has not happened yet this year due to elections, the proposals have asked for an increase in fixed costs. In the last decade, the tariffs have been going up irrespective of who is in power. This time, Congress has promised 200 units of free power to all households in the State, that the BJP has attacked as “imprudent”.
Prior to the elections, the Energy Department had instructed KPTCL and escoms to arrange power to ensure that there is no load-shedding during summer. Bescom officials said that they have been following it accordingly, and power cuts should not be confused for power outages. “Small interruptions will obviously be there. On a larger perspective, there have been no outages,” an official said.
(In this series, we look at the major infrastructural issues affecting the city and how recent governments have dealt with them.)