A Power-less India
India - the world’s second most populous country in the world, suffered a serious collapse of its power grid. For 48 hours, nearly 680 million people (over half its population) living in 14 states in the north and eastern part of the country, were plunged in darkness. Think about it - that is nearly twice the population of the entire United States that was affected!
We humans have come to depend on electricity for all our daily activities. So it was no surprise that ordinary life came to a grinding halt and even essential services such as hospitals, traffic lights and public transportation came to a complete standstill in India - in the world's worst blackout ever.
What was the reason for this widespread blackout? How do power failures happen and over large areas? The answer lies in the way power is produced and transmitted over the power grids.
The Power Grid
Electricity comes to us through a network of systems. Electricity has to be first produced or generated, transported or transmitted and distributed from power plants to our homes. Known as the "Power Grid", the network consists of all the equipment, technology and machinery that make it possible for energy to reach us at the exact moment when we need it. Remember to watch the video in the notes. Unlike other goods, electricity moves at the speed of light. The actual production of electricity has to happen at the exact moment when it is needed.
Electricity moves like cars on invisible highways from power plants to industries and homes. Imagine the chaos if there is either an oversupply of electricity or if enough power is not produced. The efficient management of the needs and regulating the supply happen 24/7, 365 days of the year by experts.
India has a population of 1.2 billion people that is growing fast. Meanwhile, the country's economy is growing far faster than it can produce electricity to meet its domestic and industrial needs. This year, India has been undergoing an extremely hot summer. India depends on hydroelectricity (water) for a large portion of its energy needs. With a poor 2012 monsoon season, the availability of water for power generation has been down. The explosion in demand for electricity to run A/Cs, caused demand to spike up. Blackouts are not uncommon in India, but this week, many different things came together.
The power system in India works like a national superhighway, where generating plants located all over the country supply power to consumers across the nation. When simultaneously many states began to draw excessive power, the power plants were unable to keep up. When the first few plants began to trip because of excessive power being drawn, the load was automatically transferred to other systems. The rerouted traffic caused other networks to also fail because of increased demand at short notice, resulting in a rolling failure. The problems have also been compounded by aged equipment and poor investment in the power infrastructure of the country.
While power has been restored for most of the affected areas, the recent blackout has been a wakeup call to the country. India is a large player in the world economy. Could its power grid be the weak link in the country's economic future? The future is unclear.