Working Papers

Band-Aid Solutions Won’t Staunch India’s Power Crisis

The India Forum

June 6, 2022

India is experiencing yet another power crisis. In the last week of April, the daily peak power shortage rose to 10,778 megawatt (MW). Power deficits reached 5% of overall supply at the national level, while a few states experienced steep deficits ranging up to 15%. To deal with the scarcity, distribution utilities (discoms) resorted to loadshedding — rationing supply hours for households and economic activities, usually unannounced. Such power supply disruptions not only hurt economic activities and productivity, but also impinge on essential services and human well-being. Though India claims to have achieved power adequacy (officially, the annual national power deficit has been below 0.5% for the last six years), periodic shortages remain a predictable phenomenon. Coal fuels more than 70% of the electricity generated in India. Monsoon-induced coal production slowdowns and consequent power shortages are more or less annual events in India. Since 2006, there have been 10 instances when more than 50 power plants reported critically low coal stock. India experienced such a power crisis in October 2021. However, an early summer power shortage is unprecedented. While the situation may appear to have improved in May with a small drop in demand and a ramp up in generation, the system is running under acute stress. 1 As electricity demand is projected to grow, these shortages could occur more frequently through the year if they are not addressed adequately now.

What explains this early summer power shortage? How is it different or linked to monsoon shortages? As we answer these questions, we trace the structural roots of persisting power shortages in India. We analyse immediate government responses to the crisis and their consequences and identify priorities for a long-term solution that are consistent with energy transition. In doing so, we argue that current short-term fixes for India’s power crisis neither address rising uncertainty in the electricity system nor are aligned to a transition towards a 21st century energy system.

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