Karnataka, which recently saw a change in regime that implemented the ‘Gruha Jyoti Scheme’ of providing free electricity for up to 200 units to every residential household, is in the throes of a deep power crisis.
The state is seeing an unexpected demand of more than 16,000 MW in October 2023. Energy Minister K J George said the state recorded a peak demand of 16,950 MW on August 25, compared with just 11,268 MW in August 2022.
According to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, this near 50 per cent increase in power consumption is due to drought, since farmers are using more electricity for their pump sets in the absence of adequate rains this year. The ‘Gruha Jyoti Scheme’ could also be a factor responsible for this huge spurt in demand.
The state government has chalked out an action plan to mitigate the shortfall in power situation with these components:
a) Power purchases through the day-ahead market (DAM) and real-time market (RTM).
b) Swapping of power from UP and Punjab during the pre-solar and post-solar hours and round-the-clock (RTC) power.
c) Procuring power through short-term tenders
d) Imposing Section 11 of the Electricity Act 2003 to draw power from generators in the state through open access.
These are costly options for a state already overburdened with several “welfare guarantee” schemes.
For farming, the government is committed to providing 5 hours of power supply during either daytime or night time on a rotation basis in three shifts. For industries, the Bengaluru Electricity Supply Company (BESCOM) has assured “uninterrupted power supply”.
At present, industries are suffering from frequent power cuts, outages and voltage surge/dips. There is also uncertainty because they do not know when the power will come or go and therefore cannot schedule production.
All these palliative measures and assurances are reactive, supply-based, on-demand solutions that cannot resolve the vexing problem, which is likely to persist. A better alternative would be proactive, need-based energy management (NBEM).
In the power sector, there is a distinct difference between demand and need. While the former is inflated and exaggerated, the latter is actual and realistic. And if the need is properly identified and satisfied, the problem could get resolved.
Categories of Consumers
Power consumers are in five broad categories: industry, agriculture, commercial/office establishments, domestic and essential services. Only a small percentage of industries are in the continuous process category, needing power for 24 hours. Another small percentage would be doing two or three shifts. The vast majority are single-shift who would be satisfied with an industry load of 8-10 hours a day.
In farming, crops need only limited (5/6 hours per day) but good quality and uninterrupted power supply. Agro-based industries like sugar and cotton ginning are seasonal and require full power only for part of the year. Cold storages need 12 to 14 hours of power supply, preferably split into two or three parts. The load of majority domestic consumers and commercial establishments is essentially for lighting.
What is important is that the supply should be transparent, assured and reliable. The first thing to do in NBEM is to categorise the consumers as per their consumption profile—shift-based industries; continuous process industries and industries having independent feeders; irrigation tube wells; peak load requirement; commercial/domestic connections and essential and emergency services.
The next step is to design a delivery mechanism and streamline distribution system. Regulatory measures should be in accordance with the delivery mechanism and should be strictly enforced through a combination of public relations (PR), vigilance and technical supervision. PR is to make the consumers aware of the measures, vigilance to put the fear of severe penalty into field officers and wayward consumers and technical supervision so that no one acts smart.
If properly designed, structured and implemented, NBEM would bring in enormous benefits to consumers, the grid, DISCOMS/ESCOMS and the government. System losses would be substantially reduced since line and equipment do not get overloaded for the full day. Quality, including voltage profile and power factor at all levels, will improve leading to better industrial and agricultural health and productivity.
Several years ago, in a crisis situation akin to that of Karnataka, NBEM was designed and implemented by the Haryana State Electricity Board (HSEB), and it yielded very good results.
The HSEB was resorting to abstract power regulatory measures, as is being done in Karnataka now. A quick study of the measures revealed several defects and loopholes. Available power was flowing in all the feeders simultaneously and bulk consumers often resorted to theft and panic overdrawing.
Farmers kept their electric pumps switched on to water their fields at whatever time power came, invariably leading to wastage. There were no separate feeders for supplying power to distinct categories as per need. Even to cater to the needs of essential services such as hospitals, water supply and sewerage, the entire urban/rural feeders had to be switched on, facilitating unauthorised drawing by consumers connected to such feeders. The result was near-total chaos.
It was under these circumstances the NBEM system was quickly put together and enforced, starting with categorisation of consumers. After allocating 6 hours for peak load requirement, day/night was divided into three parts of six hours each. The state was also grouped into regions, each having a number of 220 KV substations.
After the peak hours, power feeders in one group would be switched off from the 220 KV substation itself in rotation for six hours. For essential services, domestic consumption and independent feeder industries, amperage/units were fixed and power released accordingly round the clock. In addition, for special needs such as water supply, timings were fixed and power made available outside the group timings.
About six months after its introduction, an evaluation was made by a specially constituted group of senior engineers and the report was very positive. Some of the direct benefits identified were: assured supply and equitable distribution of power, system discipline, improvement in quality of power, reduction in system losses, streamlined control of power distribution, impact on the performance of regional grid, higher consumer satisfaction and economic efficiency and improved generation due to disciplined distribution system.
This was achieved manually; with current technology, results could be much better. NBEM, if refined and reworked to suit Karnataka’s requirements and effectively implemented, could resolve the current crisis without putting unnecessary burden on the state exchequer.
(The author is a former IAS officer and chairman of the erstwhile Haryana State Electricity Board)
(Published 22 October 2023, 18:56 IST)