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Home News Power Sector News Black Monday: A disaster just waiting to happen

Black Monday: A disaster just waiting to happen

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Delhi MetroBlackout on 30-07-2012 in nine northern states following a grid collapse was a disaster waiting to happen. With most states in the region facing perennial shortages of power, they are prone to drawing more than their share from the grid, leaving it precariously poised. Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan are notorious among load despatchers for their wanton disregard of planned drawal. All are agricultural states and also house major industries. But successive state governments have done precious little to ramp up generation capacity. This has created a wide demand-supply mismatch. The current dry spell has worsened the situation, sparking a rush for power from the farming sector. Overdrawal, or sucking more than the scheduled quantity, is quite common in the northern grid. Drawing more or less power changes the frequency, which can change the voltage and trip the network.

In spite of a penalty imposed on each unit of overdrawn power, it still works out cheaper for states than buying electricity from the open market. And even if a state buys from the spot market in a contingency, wheeling the power could pose a problem since there's no guarantee the grid would have spare capacity at that point. But what explains the insufficient generation capacity in the first place? One major reason, though not the only one, is that state electricity boards are almost without exception cash-starved. Governments that insist on free power to the farm sector and other such populist measures clearly have contributed to that situation.

Given the demand-supply mismatch and the consequent temptation to draw more than their share, a 2002 official report had warned that stripping the national transmission utility of powers to regulate electricity flow in the network would increase the threat of major blackouts. The prophecy appears to have come true on Monday.

BlackoutThe report, prepared by a team of officials after studying power reforms in China, stressed the need to keep control over electricity flow with PowerGrid Corporation, which operates the grid. But the Centre carved out a separate entity, Power System Operation Corporation, to manage power despatch. "The grid collapse is an administrative failure. It shows the fallacy of separating grid and load despatch operations. PowerGrid's powers to enforce grid discipline has been diluted by creation of a separate entity for managing despatch," R P Singh, who served as PowerGrid chairman for almost a decade, told ToI.

"I cannot comment on the reason for today's grid collapse. But discipline in respect of drawal of power and maintenance of frequency is necessary for operation of a grid. Overdrawal has become easier with interconnect. So there is need to give the load despatch centres more statutory and enforcement powers," former power secretary Anil Razdan told TOI. "None of our states have a contingency plan. They do not have capacity booked with generation companies or grid for a situation where, say, one of their own plants go on the blink or demand suddenly rises. They neither plan for 24X7 supply nor are ready to pay. If you book capacity you have to pay," Razdan said.

A senior PGCIL executive said on condition of anonymity: "UP has been a consistent offender. It seems that they were again overdrawing around 1,500MW at the time of grid-tripping. While they don't have generation capacity they need to meet the aspirations of the people. At that time around, 2,000MW was being overdrawn by states such as UP, Punjab and Haryana." Mint could not verify this statement independently.


The event took place in the backdrop of a petition filed by the Northern Regional Load Despatch Centre (NRLDC) with the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC) against the state power utilities and load despatch centres of Delhi, UP, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. The power overdrawn by these states is in the range of 3% to 51% of the scheduled quota. NRLDC is responsible for maintaining grid discipline and supervising optimum scheduling and despatch of electricity in the northern region.

"We have called the chief executive officers of the power distribution companies on 14 August," said Pramod Deo, chairman of CERC.

Apart from overdrawing power, states also owe money on account of charges known as unscheduled interchange (UI) to generation firms such as NTPC Ltd. UI, which is the maximum price of overdrawing power from the grid, needs to be paid by a state when it exceeds the quota allotted to it. UP alone owes around Rs. 1,000 crore on account of UI charges.

"The law of the land has to be observed," said the PGCIL executive cited above.

Regional load despatch centres (RLDCs), which are under the purview of Posoco, are responsible for maintaining grid discipline and supervising optimum scheduling and delivery of electricity in their regions. The country has 33 state load despatch centres, five RLDCs—for the northern, eastern, north-eastern, western and southern regions—and one national load despatch centre.

"We think stability is the issue. We suspect that the demand in the western region dipped while that in the northern region increased. This could have led to cascade tripping. It is only a hypothesis. We are trying to find out the exact reason behind the outage," said R.N. Nayak, chairman and managing director of PGCIL. "It is a lesson. Grid discipline should be maintained"

Grid frequency is a critical aspect of power system operations. Global standards require that grid frequency be kept close to 50 hertz (Hz), but power-short India has had a history of frequency fluctuating from below 48Hz to above 52Hz, which led to innumerable grid collapses in the 1980s and 1990s. The current standards are between 49.5 Hz and 50.2Hz.

But the bottomline is that the grid is only the courier. If there isn't enough to go around, disciplining the grid can at best ensure that everyone suffers equally.

Source- TOI, Mint


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