Smart Grid to help India avoid blackouts

Surupa Mahto/Ovum
23 Aug 2012

The two recent blackouts in India were mainly caused by the failure of India’s electricity infrastructure to meet increasing demand for power.

Poor policy frameworks, aging transmission infrastructure, and ailing distribution companies have all contributed to this increasing gap between supply and demand. In order to avoid these types of large-scale blackouts in the future, India needs to upgrade its transmission and distribution network, and invest heavily in smart grid technology.

The first blackout occurred on July 30, 2012, affecting nearly 350 million people in the northern region of the country. In an effort to restore electricity, power was drawn from the eastern and north-eastern grids. This measure proved to be only temporary as the northern grid collapsed again on July 31, 2012, this time bringing down the eastern and the north-eastern grids with it.

The second blackout affected more than 600 million people and interrupted rail, metro, road traffic, and hospital services. The blackout was the largest in history, bringing around half of the country to a standstill.

There is a strong need to reform India’s power sector

The blackouts raise many questions regarding India’s existing grid infrastructure. Rapid population growth, economic development, industrialization, and urbanization in India have caused an inexorable rise in the demand for electricity. Although India has increased its power-generation capacity, it still lacks the strong policies and robust transmission and distribution infrastructure required to support this growing demand.

In 1991, the government opened the power-generation market to private companies as part of electricity reforms, but the power sector is still largely run by government-controlled entities. Private companies such as Tata Power and Reliance Power are now increasing their share of the power-generation market, but these companies are still struggling to establish power plants quickly, due to issues related to acquiring land and fuel shortage.

While generation reforms have been passed, transmission and distribution networks suffer from chronic underinvestment and a blatant disregard for regulatory orders, fuelled by states’ self-interest.

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