Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Meagre investment and lack of planning in production forced Karnataka to buy power and stay out of the dark
Rishikesh Bahadur Desai | TNN

Hubli: What ails the power sector? What are the possible solutions? These questions have been hotly debated for years by activists and those in power, without any side coming up with clear answers. However, both sides seem to agree on some things — that there are some serious issues with power production and supply, and that they can be fixed.
The main issue is that there is a huge mismatch between supply and demand. While the average demand is around 135 million units per day, the state can produce only 120 million units. Delayed rains push up demand and reduce hydel power production capacity significantly. Thus, scarcity ranges from 15-30%.
Lack of future planning for increased generation and unprecedented economic growth that spurred power usage in the state, led to the mismatch. While six of the thermal power units were started in the first 11 years of founding the Raichur Thermal Power Station, erecting two others of equal capacity is taking more than 15 years.
Critics say the government’s reaction to power scarcity has been indifferent and slow at times, and knee-jerk at other times. “Successive governments have failed to support the state-owned power production company, Karnataka Power Corporation, with investment. If KPC had the money to invest in hydel and thermal projects in the past 10-15 years, we would not have faced power scarcity at all,’’ labour leader G N Nagaraj said.
Nagaraj was among the earliest petitioners to KERC, seeking directions to the government to increase investment in power production. “With timely investment, the government can produce hydel power at 55 paise per unit, but it continues to buy power from private producers at Rs 7-8 per unit. This is gross injustice,’’ he said.
Transmission and distribution losses are very high, compared to international standards. T and D losses of electricity supply companies continue to remain between 14 and 26%, while the accepted level is 4%. Officials say the biggest cause of T and D losses is power theft. “Owing to theft in some areas, we supply power valued at Rs 100 but collect only Rs 15,’’ a senior Gescom official said.
Gajanan Sharma, energy expert and author of the book ‘Hundred Years of Electricity in Karnataka’ feels increased generation, avoiding wasteful use of energy and use of alternative energy sources like solar water heaters at homes and apartment complexes, are possible solutions to the power crisis. He feels thermal power is the most viable way of producing energy in the near future. “Hydel power is cheaper than thermal power. But it will become increasingly difficult to build huge dams and produce power in the coming days,’’ he said. According to him, mini hydel projects could be built at smaller dams that cater to areas surrounding the dams. With 38 new irrigation projects coming up in the state, one can look forward to an increase in the number of mini-hydel projects.
The state government is putting up two major projects in Chhattisgarh and Bijapur. Two smaller projects are coming up too. These four are expected to add up to 8500 MW of power over the next 10 years.
Use of renewable energy tools, like solar heaters and battery chargers at home, is a far more practical idea than using renewable energy sources on a mass scale. Such steps reduce demand considerably, apart from making the user feel satisfied about using ecofriendly measures.
Nearly 130 years after it was invented, hydel power processing remains the cheapest way to make electricity. The cost of producing power from water turbines varies between 55 paise and Rs 2 per unit, depending on how much it takes to build a dam, and what technology is used in the powerhouse.
Next is thermal power, that costs Rs 3-5 per unit. The cost of producing energy from various renewable sources is slightly higher, at Rs 4-8 per unit.
Each unit of energy coming from diesel generators is around Rs 12 per unit.
Nuclear energy is the costliest, at Rs 15.
In Karnataka, the average cost of power has been calculated at Rs 2.72 per unit.
Users complain that power companies keep increasing rates, but companies say they supply power at rates that are unscientifically low. In Karnataka, various groups of users pay varying tariffs. Farmers are supposed to pay 40 paise per unit, while industrial units pay Rs 4.5. For two years now, the state government has been footing the bill for power supplied to rural IP sets.
India among the least producers of power in the world: produces 1.5 lakh megawatt compared to 8 lakh mw in China and 11 lakh mw in USA
Karnataka produces around 9,600 MW of power — compare this to South Korea, that has half of Karnataka’s population but produces 64,000 mw!
Karnataka has an installed capacity of 9,646 MW — of that, 42% is produced by thermal power stations, 36% is from hydel units, 20% is from renewable sources and 2% is nuclear energy


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