Haroon Reshi

As Valley braces up to more chill, supply of electricity remains a question

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The issue of erratic power supply is a chronic one which demands a long term mechanism to deal with besides the consumers too have to ensure judicious use of energy.

Like in every winter, Kashmir is grappling with the acute electricity crisis these days. Even though Chillai-Kalan, the 40-day long period of extreme cold, is yet to come, the Kashmir Power Development Corporation Limited (KPDCL) has already announced a curtailment schedule across the Valley —in Srinagar, for example, 1.5 hours power cut in a day in metered areas, and 3 hours in non-metered areas.

However, all the areas face frequent power breakdowns beyond the limits of announced ‘power curtailment schedule’. The officials express their helplessness. They say, on one hand, J&K’s own power generation capacity depletes to the lowest (from 1200 MW to 200-300 MW) in winters because of the decrease in water level in the rivers and, on the other hand, demand rises exponentially because people use blowers, heaters, geysers, and other electric devices during this season.

“Presently we import more than 90 percent energy from outside to meet the demand to some extent”, an official source told Kashmir Images. The source gave a clear-cut explanation: “This year, we met with the peak demand in Jammu and Kashmir on November 14; when we supplied 2405 megawatt power across J&K —1565 megawatt to the Valley and 840 megawatt to Jammu.  Of this, 2161 mega watt was imported from outside, the Northern Regional Load Despatch Center (NRLDC). Our own resources supported only with 244 megawatts of power.”

“In harsh winter days, our power generation capacity depletes up to 150 megawatt in Jammu and 60 megawatt in the Valley; and, eventually, we are forced to import the energy throughout the winters, which comes on a huge cost” the source said.

Experts say, J&K is unable to import the energy from outside as per the exact demand because the UT lacks the infrastructure —in terms of receiving stations, sufficient 220/132 KV substations, transmission corridors, and regional supply lines — to support the energy import beyond a certain limit.

As if all this was not enough, Jammu and Kashmir loses a large quantity of electricity because of inadequate infrastructure and faulty transmission lines. In addition to it, a large-scale power theft and misuse by the consumers, including government departments and security forces has worsened the situation.

Interestingly, the governments, that be, have always been boasting about their plans to end the chronic power crisis in J&K. Even in last three years, under the direct rule of New Delhi, the administrations here have been promising moon and stars in terms of ensuring better electricity supply. For instance, the then Governor Satya Pal Malik, in an official function on September 19, 2019, praised the Union Government’s move to provide “round-the-clock electricity this winter” (which actually was far away from the ground reality).

Next year, then Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu, while inaugurating some power projects on July 14, 2020, said that government was aiming to achieve the larger goal of self-sufficiency in power sector.

A year later, on July 15, this year, Lieutenant Governor, Manoj Sinha, while inaugurating some power projects in Jammu Division said, “I want to assure all the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir that the administration is continuously working towards your needs and a long-term strategy is being implemented on the ground to ensure 20-22 hours of continuous electricity like other parts of the country,”.

However, experts say that to achieve the target of providing a reliable and continuous power supply to J&K, needs investment of thousands of crores rupees and years of work. They say nothing is going to change overnight. On the other hand, sources privy to the facts and figures, say that the energy demand has been increasing by about 10 percent annually, which demands continuous updation of the infrastructure.

Clearly, the ongoing power crisis is a complicated and a deeply rooted problem and the current power crisis stems from huge difference in demand and supply. Since the demand will increase as the minimum temperature drops more in coming days and weeks, the power crisis could further deepen in the Valley.

Meanwhile, to understand the genesis of the electricity crises in Kashmir, particularly in winter; and, to grasp more knowledge and information about the issue; KASHMIR IMAGES spoke with some concerned officials and experts. Here are the excerpts:

Ajaz Ahmad Dar
Chief Engineer (Distribution)
Kashmir Power Distribution Corporation Limited (KPDCL)

In the early days of this month, we had 2000 MW electricity demand in the Valley. However, with the dip in mercury, the demand has risen to 2600 MW these days. For us, it is not possible to meet the demand. Presently, we are supplying up to 1550 MW of electricity a day. This is 200 MW more than what we would supply in the same days of November, last year. To be more specific, I would say we are supplying 340 lakh units of electricity each day in the valley. While as, last year, during the same period, we used to supply 290 lakh units of electricity a day. That means we are now providing 15 to 16 percent more energy compared to November 2020.

Out of the 1550 MW that we supply in the Valley, 150 MW goes to the essential services — such as hospitals, PHE installations, important offices of the district and divisional administration— across the Valley. The rest of the power goes to industry and domestic use —predominantly household use. It would astonish you to know that we have agreements with our consumers only for the load of 830 MW. Precisely, we are providing almost double than the agreements. The government bears a loss of 2.50 rupees on each electricity unit supplied in the Valley. To make it more understandable, I would say that we purchase 2800 to 3000 crore rupees energy annually to supply it in Kashmir, but we receive merely 38 percent as its revenue. Last year, we collected only 1150 crore rupees as revenue to the supply of 3000 crore rupees worth electricity.

As a solution, we had interdicted a scheme called KYC (Know Your Customer) to know the exact usage of power by the people, some two years ago. However, hardly five percent of consumers came up to tell us their power consumption details.

Sadly, the use of electric gadgets for the heating purpose has risen in the Valley, over the years. Unlike past, people do not use Kanger (fire-pot) and Hamam (traditional heating system) anymore. The change in lifestyle of the people has caused more demand for electricity. The overuse of the energy also causes excessive burden on our infrastructure, which we are trying to improve constantly. Unfortunately, our frequent appeals for judicious use of the energy go in vain.

Bashir Ahmad Dar
Chief Engineer (maintenance)
Kashmir Power Distribution Corporation Limited (KPDCL)

The basic reason for the electricity crisis in Kashmir is the large-scale misuse and overuse of energy. We have sufficient availability of power, provided people stop its overuse and misuse.

For example, even after the curtailments, Valley’s per capita power consumption average is higher than the rest of the country. We have per capita 1350 kw (a kilowatt per hour) consumption here, while as national per capita electricity consumption is only 12 kw. That means we have sufficient availability of energy in Kashmir, all the time; and, that is why we do not face power shortages in summers. However, come winter, we start misusing the energy.

Most of the energy goes to waste due to the usage of unnecessary electric gadgets. For instance, people generally use bare coils locally known as ‘boilers’ for water heating. They put boilers into the tanks to heat up the water. Let me tell you, no country in the entire world allows using electricity in direct contact with water in residential areas. But in Kashmir, this is a normal practice.

We must understand that this practice has some grave repercussions, as well. First, it is hazardous. A few years ago three minor sisters (4, 6, and 11 years of age) got electrocuted and died instantly at their home in Rajouri after they came in contact with a metallic container, in which an electric boiler was put. I am sure similar incidents might be happening in various parts of the Valley. However, these incidents are unreported due to the social stigma attached to them. Second, we lose lakhs of electricity units every day here because of the electric boiler usage. We have observed that people keep boiling the water tanks whole night; even though, it takes water only two to three hours to reach the desired temperature.

As a solution, our department, some time ago, had suggested to the government to provide people with subsidized geysers to ensure they stop the practice of using crude water boilers. We had suggested purchasing lakhs of geysers to provide them to people at subsidized rates. We had made an assessment that all the spending on purchasing geysers would be paid back in terms of electricity savings in a year’s time. However, then the question came up whether people, after getting the geysers on nominal prices, would manage the overhead tanks and make fitting on their own or not.

As per our estimation, if only one-third of consumers using crude water boilers replace them with geysers and immersion rods, 1825 units of electricity from per consumer would be saved annually.  Same degree of electricity savings by six lakh consumers would mean saving of nearly 1000 Mega Units.

Similarly, consumers can replace cooking heaters with energy-efficient induction heaters, which are available in the market. In a conventional electric cooking heater lot of energy is wasted. And, they, like crude water boilers, too are safety hazard. Also, we have found that the efficiency of a standard conventional electric cooking heater is around 70% only. In addition, the conventional cooking heaters being used in Kashmir are substandard, and they do not conform to any national or international standard.

Again, as per our estimation, if only one-third of consumers replace conventional cooking heaters with induction cook tops, per consumer saving can be around 1.4 units per day. And the total saving (per anum, per consumer) can be around 511 units, which amount to 300 Mega Units for one-third consumers (as many as six lakh domestic consumers).

Briefly, people need to learn the smart use of electricity to ensure they stop its misuse and overuse.

Abrar Khan
Chairman, all traders, and transporters joint coordination committee; Former Chairman, Jammu Kashmir Economic Confederation

Electricity is one of the basic requirements for the growth of businesses and industries. But in Kashmir, frequent power breakdowns have become a routine matter, and, eventually, our businesses and industry suffer continuously. In fact, one of the key reasons for the failure of our industrial sector is inadequate and unreliable power supply. How can you expect a small industry to grow if it faces five to six-hour power curtailment a day, in months-long winter? No other place in India faces energy crisis the way J&K does. Most of states, unlike J&K, are not even power-producing states, yet they get 24×7 energy supply, particularly for their business and industry sector. I have been many countries around the world, however, I am yet to see a place where businesses and industries suffer because of inadequate power supply. Once I was in Kyrgyzstan, where the temperature dips up to 25 degrees. I saw all the buildings there with the central heating system. And, I was told their government sponsors this facility.

But in our case, governments, that be, are least bothered about the people. Sometimes the power department seems to be out there to ensure people suffer. For instance, the traders’ community has been charged with fees even for the period when their businesses were closed down because of the post-August 2019 situation, and following Covid lockdown. Everybody knows Kashmir mostly remained shut during past over two years. Yet, we are served bills with compound interests for that period. In some cases, the department has unilaterally changed the agreements and started sending overcharged bills with attached messages for the consumers that their agreements were revised. The term “agreement” itself indicates that there must be at least more than one party involved to make an agreement. How do they revise agreements unilaterally?

The government must come with short-term and long-term policies to ensure consumers, particularly the business and industry unit holders, get an uninterrupted power supply. After all, J&K is a place where hydropower is generated in large amounts. It is sad to see that electricity produced here by the NHPC is sent out and then the same energy is bought back at higher prices. Why can’t government harness J&K’s huge water resources by building small power projects here? These projects could be run on public-private partnerships. They will also help to generate some employment.

Iftikhar Drabu
Writer, civil infrastructure expert, formerly Senior Director, Ramboll

Jammu and Kashmir is the most energy deficit place in India and it also has the highest transmission, distribution, and commercial losses (T, D & C). These high losses leave the government with little money to buy energy from the market to meet the increasing demand resulting in severe energy crises during the winter season.

J&K records 65–70 percent transmission, distribution, and commercial losses which is many times higher than in any other part of the world. For example, in Europe, these losses are below 5 percent with the world average being around 10 percent. The national average in India is 20% and we are more than three times that figure. In simple terms, if we buy energy for Rs: 100/=, our revenue collection on sale of the same is between Rs 30 to Rs 35 only. Annually, the government is able to collect a mere Rs 2000 crore as revenue against a purchase bill of more than Rs 6500 crores thereby incurring a loss of around Rs 4500 crores every year, all because of these very high T, D & C losses. That means if the government buys more energy to meet the demand, it would lose even more money which eventually would hit and dent further its budget. While one can, to a certain extent, blame the dilapidated distribution network for the losses but it is also a fact that a good percentage of it is on account of power theft. That said, there are areas with an inadequate distribution network to cater to the increased demand for energy in winter resulting in power curtailment. Now that the government has initiated proper metering (they are installing smart meters in some areas) of the supply, I hope it will ease our power woes.

Sadly, there is a common perception here that we are not allowed to harness our power generation capacity to the fullest in J&K. This is not correct and it has however been the myopic vision of the successive governments who have failed to invest in developing our hydel resources. Between 1975 and 2008 a mere 100 MW of generating capacity was developed while the demand during the period increased many fold pushing us deeper and deeper into the energy crisis.

Building a hydropower project means a huge investment – today the cost per MW of hydropower is in excess of Rs 12 crores.  And, it takes five to eight years to complete a hydro project. To tap our potential of 15000 MW we require an investment of Rs 2 lakh crores. And, since generation from hydro plants in winter drops to one-sixth, more hydro generating capacity will not completely address our energy situation in winter.

In the last two decades, the energy generation market has seen huge changes with the advancement in solar power. Unlike hydro, it requires much less investment and can be commissioned far quicker than a hydro station. In the last 15 years, the cost per MW of solar plants has dropped from Rs 18 crore per MW to less than Rs 3 to Rs 4 crores per MW.  We need to look at a hybrid station of hydro and solar for our long-term energy security.

To conclude, I would say that India is an energy surplus country. So there is no shortage of energy in the market and if the government had the money it could purchase energy from the open market. However, besides purchasing additional energy to bridge the gap between the supply and demand of energy, we need to focus on judicious use of energy and pay for what we use which will result in increased revenue and thus the reduction in the losses. Also, as a society, we must understand nothing comes free and we should be ready to pay for the services we use and then only we can come out of our electricity crisis.

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