On a bad power trip via Power Engineering

NEW DELHI, Aug. 14 — The unprecedented northern power grid failure on July 30 and the North-eastern power grid failure on July 31 plunged 700 million Indians into darkness. This is an ominous warning of a deep crisis in our power sector. Strangely, though not surprisingly, this is being used as a pretext to advance the cause of nuclear power generation following the Indo-US nuclear deal. The official explanation for the grid failure is that states have violated grid discipline and overdrawn power. This leads to a fall in transmission frequency, which causes such a collapse. Normally, in order to isolate and separate a particular section of the grid, which becomes vulnerable to such overdrawing, special protection systems – under frequency relays (UFRs) – are installed to prevent the frequency from dropping. Whether such UFRs were installed or they were ineffective needs to be examined. The UFRs are there in the southern grid and, hence, it did not collapse. Even the explanation of overdrawing by the states appears specious with the monsoon having set in and the peak demand on the grid actually coming down.

Nuclear energy is the most expensive energy option for India. Eminent scientists have estimated that the cost per mega-watt would be R11.1 crore from imported nuclear reactors. The prime minister has announced a target of 40,000 MW of nuclear power. If 30,000 MW of this were to come from foreign reactors, it will cost us R3,30,000 crore. The same amount of thermal energy would cost R1,20,000 crore. Using gas or hydral generation, the cost would be only R90,000 crore. By using the nuclear option for generating 30,000 MW, India would be spending anywhere beyond R2 lakh crore more than by using the available alternatives. Can we afford such an expensive option?

It is cruel to pursue such a course when the finance minister talks of cutting subsidies for the poor in the name of fiscal discipline. We are unable to provide food security to our people, but are willing to create newer avenues for profit maximisation. Can this be allowed? Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP

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