August 21, 2012

moderate the demand for electricity

A couple of weeks ago, I contributed an editorial, for the newspaper I write for, on the issue of power/electricity crisis in India. I share it below:

Go for new bright solutions

Power crisis must push government and users to moderate demand and use renewable energy

The severe two-day power crisis that enveloped half of India earlier this week led to the torchlight falling upon the usual suspects -- severe shortage of coal for power plants, supply not keeping pace with demand leading to overdrawing of power by some states from the national grid. Most solutions to the power crisis tend to veer around rapidly increasing coal production in the country to meet the relentless growth in demand. But the time has to come to inculcate fresh thinking in the matter. 

To begin with, we have to be open to embracing the idea of moderation in the demand from everyone except those who have yet to enjoy the benefit of electrification and those who receive electricity but only rarely. We should not forever remain a hostage to the pressure of high GDP growth since that is based on extremely high consumption of power. 

A 10 per cent moderation in demand is possible overnight if users simply do not waste electricity due to carelessness in switching off when not using it and due to wrong or frivolous usage. Due to lack of sensitivity among users, whether retail, corporate, businesses, industrial or government this quick reduction is not happening currently. 

Awareness and sensitisation campaigns by government and private sector need to get going right away. Another 10 per cent reduction in demand can take place with the use of energy-efficient appliances. Urban usage of power-hungry incandescent light bulbs should not be tolerated any more. Fluorescent tubes are giving way energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps but the pace ought to be accelerated. Corporate offices should, in fact, be goaded to graduate to LED lights which, though more expensive than CFLs, consume the least power among all types of lighting. Only five-star rated air-conditioners should be allowed for commercial customers.

 With government intervention and voluntary contribution by users, a 20 per cent reduction in power demand is very much possible. Power demand that can not be curtailed need to increasingly use renewable sources of energy no matter their high costs. 

Due to frequent power cuts, majority of households, shops, corporate offices, industrial establishments and agricultural tractors and pumps are anyway forced to depend on diesel-powered power generators. This leads to high cost anyway. If and when subsidies on diesel go the cost will go up still more. 

Cost of solar power is increasingly coming down and the difference between diesel and solar is bound to get bridged very soon. The government's solar mission, although flawed and myopic in some implementation areas, is increasingly providing cost subsidies to solar equipments. 

Solar lighting is already a hit with widespread small and big manufacturers and consumers. Innovation in solar energy field is taking place every single day. Just the other day a large-sized energy equpiment manufacturer began advertising for a hybrid solar-grid UPS where its battery, once fully charged from solar panel or power grid, will block power flow from main grid and run appliances on solar power. 

This is just one of several innovations already available in the marketplace. Cost subsidies from government will make more users switch to them and reduce the pressure on the power grid. When demand gets controlled supply-related problems will not result in a crisis in the conventional power grid.

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