With India planning to go dark for nine minutes on Sunday night at 9 pm on call from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there have been talks of a potential nation grid collapse due to sudden fall in demand. Let me tell you, the fears are grossly exaggerated.
The big question: Will the grid collapse on Sunday night and lead to long hours of load shedding?
The clear answer is “NO”. India has a baseload power demand of roughly 160 gigawatts (GW), that is 160,000 megawatts (MW). Since the nationwide lockdown, electricity demand has already come down by 30% from its peak. The gas-fired plants and hydel-power facilities can be switched off within minutes, and because of demand drop (due to the lockdown) even the thermal-power plants have cut back production already. The Power System Operation Corporation (POSOCO), which is the national load-despatch c ..
The clear answer is “NO”. India has a baseload power demand of roughly 160 gigawatts (GW), that is 160,000 megawatts (MW). Since the nationwide lockdown, electricity demand has already come down by 30% from its peak. The gas-fired plants and hydel-power facilities can be switched off within minutes, and because of demand drop (due to the lockdown) even the thermal-power plants have cut back production already. The Power System Operation Corporation (POSOCO), which is the national load-despatch.
Concern #1: Everyone will switch off at 9 pm and the grid will go haywire.
If the electricity is switched off altogether, all power stations can go on high frequency, as power demand drops significantly and there is a possibility of grid tripping. Hence, the state despatch-loading centres (SDLCs) ensure that the frequency of power that runs in the power-grid lines should be between 48.5 hertz and 51.5 hertz, according to CERC regulations.
Concern #2: What measures has the power industry taken to tackle any sudden
developments at 9 pm tonight?
Tonight, it is not a demand-side situation. The danger is of supply side — surging and
disrupting the frequency when Indians switch off lights all at once at 9 pm.
To address the supply side, we need to understand various sources of electricity. India
gets power from different sources — thermal, hydro, gas, solar, and wind. Solar doesn’t
generate at night. Wind energy is continuous and can’t be stopped. But it is possible to
completely shut down a hydro or a gas plant. It is easy to switch off hydro- and gas-based
plants in a few minutes and restart in a few minutes. But thermal power cannot be
managed with such ease. It takes at least eight-nine hours for switching off plants and
similar time to restart.
Since thermal plants can’t be shut down, the capacity utilisation will be kept at the lowest
tonight. Power-generation companies have already ramped up hydro- and gas-based
plants for a day to manage the situation. This will easily control the frequency and maintain
balance of the grid.
Concern #3: Will a sudden increase in voltage damage my electrical appliances?
Power transmission is a bulk movement of electrical energy from a generating site, such
as a power plant, to an electrical substation. The interconnected lines, which facilitate this
movement, are known as a transmission network. This is distinct from the local wiring
between high-voltage substations and customers. The transformers reduce the voltages
significantly that reach homes. Hence, there will be no abrupt fluctuations in voltage.
Concern #4: The demand reduction will be huge and in excess of 12 GW.
It is now estimated that total domestic lighting-load reduction at an all-India level will be to
the tune of 12 GW-13 GW. Unlike normal operation, this reduction in load would happen in
two-four minutes before 9 pm on Sunday and recover nine minutes later in two-four
Due to a nationwide lockdown, electricity demand has already come down 30% from its
peak and subsequently all the thermal-electricity plants are running at 65% plant load
factor (PLF). The demand reduction of 13 GW is on a higher side, as most people won’t
switch off fans, air conditioners, or refrigerators. Also, street lights and those in other public
places will be on. Moreover, there will be some percentage of people who will keep the
lights on along with other appliances. Hence, it could be a reduction of only seven-eight
Concern #5: Does India have experience in handling such planned power shutdowns?
A recent example of major shifts in power demand over a short timeframe was visible on
the day of the Janta Curfew on March 22, when national power demand fell to 135 GW,
down 26 GW from the 161 GW on the previous day. That’s a difference of 26,000 MW
handled successfully over a 24-hour period.
Earlier, during the 2012 Northern India blackout, the biggest in the world, there was a
sudden surge in demand that led to tripping and more than 600 million people went without
electricity for two days. This was the high-demand situation for blackout. But the Indian
power sector has learnt from that and is much better prepared now.