Writing On The Wall

Updated: May 25 2002, 05:30am hrs
There has been a sharp increase in the number of power grid breakdowns over the past one and half years. The western grid breakdown on Thursday was the fourth, and it also completes a circle of sorts. Starting from the northern grid early last year, to the southern grid on September 11, 2001, all major regions have now witnessed breakdowns or a total collapse of the power system bringing activity in the affected states to a grinding halt for several hours together. While there could be technical differences between a grid collapse and a breakdown, there still remain questions to be answered: Why is it happening and what does it cost the economy when all activity comes to a halt for even a few hours If one were to add all the economic costs of the breakdowns and collapses over the past one year, the costs could well run into several thousand crores of rupees. This should set off warning bells in the ministry of power and the regulatory commissions. Instead of addressing problems from breakdown to breakdown and the technicalities therein, one needs to look at the command and control system which is responsible for operating grids.

The responsibility of operating power grids is that of the regional electricity board and the load despatch centres. Over the past couple of years, these organisations have seen a change in the command structure — from the Central Electricity Authority to a Central Transmission Utility under the Powergrid. Powergrid incidentally also maintains and owns the inter-state transmission lines. While the onus of explaining regional grid failures lies on the CTU, the question that arises is, if, for instance the fault rests with Powergrid, what action can CTU take against Powergrid

In the case of the western grid breakdown, the load despatch centre should not have allowed overloading of the transmission line to Gujarat in the first place. While Gujarat could shed load to balance demand and supply of power in the state and thereby island itself, power in the transmission line went into the transmission lines of Maharashtra, thereby overloading those lines and tripping the entire system — resulting in the breakdown. Having said that, under the command of the CEA earlier, directions were never pooh-poohed away. In fact, they were followed fairly well. After changes in the command structure, the overall role of grid discipline falls under the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission. The trend witnessed is that adverse orders issued by the Commission are challenged in court — resulting in either delayed action or no action at all.

No wonder grid collapses are happening so frequently. While this may be passed off as a process of adjustment of the entire regulatory system, one needs to ask, how long will this take and how many more breakdowns and collapses do we need before some action is taken to reverse this trend