A potent combination of sweltering summer and acute coal shortages have triggered blackouts across many parts of the country as states struggle to manage record demand for electricity and low feedstock at power plants.
From Jammu and Kashmir to Andhra Pradesh, consumers are facing power cuts ranging from 2 hours to 8 hours. Factories are the worst hit as the industrial sector is the first port of call for regulating electricity supplies.
After the hottest March on record, a large part of the country continue to experience extreme heat in April, sending power demand to an all-time high. The total electricity shortage in the country has hit 623 million units, surpassing the total shortage in March.
At the heart of the crisis are low inventories of coal — the fossil fuel that produces 70 per cent of India’s electricity. While the government insists that there is enough coal available to meet the demand, the reduced availability of railway rakes to transport coal has led to coal inventories being at the lowest pre-summer levels in at least nine years. Also, with international energy prices shooting up following the war in Ukraine, coal imports have dipped.
Besides measures to increase coal supplies to power plants, the Union government has asked states to step up coal imports for the next three years to build up inventories.
Thermal plants across the country are grappling with coal shortages, indicating a looming power crisis in the country, All India Power Engineers Federation (AIPEF) said.
Peak power demand met or the highest supply in a day was 200.65 GW on April 27 while peak power shortage was 10.29 GW.
Latest data showed that 147 non-pit head plants with total capacity of over 163 GW monitored by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) had 25 per cent of the normative coal stocks on April 26. These plants had 14,172 thousand tonnes of coal against the norm of 57,033 thousand tonnes.
Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, has a 3,000 MW deficit. Against the demand of around 23,000 MW, the supply is just 20,000 MW, resulting in load shedding in rural areas and smaller towns.
According to the data made available by the state power department, at present, electricity is being supplied in rural areas on an average of 15 hours 7 minutes against the scheduled 18 hours. Similarly, electricity is being supplied on an average of 19 hours 3 minutes against the scheduled 21 hours 30 minutes in towns and 19 hours 50 minutes against 21 hours 30 minutes in tehsil headquarters.
However, 24 hours of electricity is being provided at district headquarters.
Samajwadi Party President Akhilesh Yadav hit out at the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh for failing to provide sufficient electricity.
The government claims to provide 18 to 20 hours of power in rural areas while only 4 hours of electricity is being made available and there is a blackout all night in many places.
Kashmir valley is facing one of its worst power crisis as unscheduled and prolonged cuts in supply in the holy month of Ramzan have left the people distraught.
Officials in the electricity department said the supply in April was around 900 to 1,100 MW while the demand was 1,600 MW.
Unscheduled power cuts in Tamil Nadu have hit the industry hard, particularly the matchbox factories in cities such as Virudhunagar, Tenkasi and Tuticorin. Last week, the state government said a shortfall of 750 MW from central grid led to power cuts in some parts of the state.
Andhra Pradesh is facing a shortfall of about 50 million units of power as against the demand, which is touching 210 million units a day.
According to the state Energy Secretary B Sridhar, the current crisis, which was a nation-wide phenomenon, might ease by the end of April.
“The power distribution companies (discoms) are tying up for 30 MU from real-time markets to overcome the deficit. But still, there is a shortfall of some 20 MU as power is not adequately available in the market. Consequently, we are implementing restriction and control measures for the industrial sector,” he said.
He also said steps were being taken to ensure power supply to agriculture was not affected to save the standing crops.
Currently, the discoms in the state are implementing a two-day ‘power holiday’ for industries every week.
In Punjab’s Hoshiarpur, farmers blocked vehicular traffic in protest against irregular electricity supply.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren admitted that the state has not been able to meet the peak demand and additional funds have been made available to procure electricity from the market.
Sakshi Singh, wife of cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni recently tweeted, “As a tax payer of Jharkhand just want to know why is there a power crisis in Jharkhand since so many years? We are doing our part by consciously making sure we save energy !”.
Odisha government claimed that its power crisis will be over by the end of April even as a large population of the state complained about load shedding amid summer heat.
Odisha, which claimed to be a power surplus state, however, faced acute shortage of electricity in mid April following breakdown of one unit of NTPC which used to generate 800 MW.
Bihar too is witnessing frequent power cuts in rural as well as urban areas.
“Bihar is facing a power deficit of 200-300 Mega Watts (MW) per day because of the sudden increase in demand. The state’s consumption is around 6,000 MW per day and the availability of power from different sources is 5,000 to 5,200 MW only. However, almost every day we are purchasing around 600 MW from the power exchange at higher rates for our consumers in the state,” Sanjeev Hans, Secretary of Energy Department (Bihar), said.
Uttarakhand is no exception with long power cuts. UPCL (Uttarakhand Power Corporation Ltd) MD Anil Kumar attributed the acute power shortage to a rise in demand caused by the early onset of summer and to the closure of a gas-driven power plant in Kashipur in Udham Singh Nagar district.
In Rajasthan, the electricity demand has increased 31 per cent, leading to power cuts of 5 to 7 hours a day.
Rural areas are facing more power cuts than in urban areas.
Paddy sowing season is yet to start in Punjab but electricity consumers are already facing unscheduled load shedding at many places in the state. Several areas, including Ludhiana, Patiala and Mohali are facing frequent power cuts. The maximum demand for power has already reached around 8,000 MW in the state.
Haryana Power Minister Ranjit Singh Chautala said that uninterrupted power will be available to consumers within next few days. He said as against the current daily demand of 8,100 MW, the present shortfall was over 300 MW but the gap will be covered by Saturday.
Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said problem of power cuts in the state will be resolved soon. But main opposition party Congress has slammed the Haryana government, blaming it for the power crisis in the state, with the party’s senior leader Randeep Singh Surjewala saying people were suffering because of heavy load shedding.
While Maharashtra has been implementing load shedding since early part of April because of a deficit of up to 3,000 MW of power, Madhya Pradesh is supplying 11,875 MW of electricity against peak demand of 12,150 MW.
MP’s Load Dispatch Centre (SLDC) chief engineer KK Prabhakar said there are no scheduled load shedding in the state at present and thermal power plants have no issues of coal supplies.
Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Ltd (GUVNL) Managing Director Jai Prakash Shivahare too claimed that there was no load shedding in the state at present due to coal shortage.
“It is a fact that there is a shortage of coal across the country. But, overall we are managing things effectively. There is no load shedding at present and the Gujarat government is committed to not impose any load shedding in the future too,” he said.
Goa government procured additional 120 MW power from the open market to avert load shedding while Chhattisgarh has no shortage of power.
West Bengal is able to meet its power demand without any deficit. State average demand is between 9,000 and 9,200 MW and able to meet without any load shedding, a senior official said.
In Tripura, the shortfall of around 140/150 MW is managed by drawing power from central PSUs as part of long-term power purchase agreement (PPA) and power trading.