Bengaluru is almost entirely dependent on the state of Karnataka for its electricity supply; nothing wrong in with that in appearance. However, inability of the state to respond consistently to the city’s power demands coupled with the failure to diversify its power generation sources impose a large hurdle on the city’s competitiveness and quality of life.
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BESCOM, the institution responsible for power distribution in eight districts of Karnataka including Bengaluru Urban and Rural, accounts for almost half of the state’s total demand out of which 2,400 MW are reserved for Bengaluru. With a total electricity demand of about 7,000 MW in the state of Karnataka, Bengaluru consumes about 35% of the state’s power.
The state of Karnataka mainly relies on only two sources of power: hydel (33%) and thermal (66%) – both totalling a generation capacity of 15,000 MW. However, due to poor plant maintenance and far from perfect water scenarii, a more realistic generation capacity estimation nears a maximum of 9,000 MW. Maximum capacity is only reached in a few instances and power shortages are common.
Thus, on the paper, it works! Actually, even a slightly lower power supply – say 6,500 MW – is still manageable according to Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Ltd (KPTCL) Managing Director Jawaid Akhtar. But in practice, it is not rare that electricity supply goes significantly under that threshold putting the whole region – including Bengaluru – under serious strain. Electricity supply, as all Bengalurean have noticed, is far from constant.
One way to deal with that is to import electricity from the central grid. However, only 900 to 1,500 MW is sourced from Central Generating Stations every day, some of which is produced by the Kaiga Atomic Power Station located in Karnataka. Due to insufficient transmission infrastructure, the number can’t be pushed in times of electricity shortage in the state.
In addition, Karnataka has placed little emphasis on clean energy. Thermal plants are among the most polluting electricity sources we know; they are also more expensive at 4.26 Rs/Kwh in comparison with 0.90 Rs/Kwh for hydel. This is not surprising as the state is still in the process of figuring out how to channel enough electricity to its consumers. In the past years, water scarcity has further increased Karnataka’s reliance on thermal power, thus weighing on the region’s ecological footprint and air quality.
Along with upgrading its thermal power stations, Karnataka could diversify its range of electricity sources by investing in non-conventional sources. However, building up such a network is tricky. Non-conventional sources are not stable streams of electricity as their conventional counterparts: wind and solar power generation are subjected to the vagaries of the weather. The uncertainty attached to non-conventional sources poses some serious issues regarding power grid management (here’s a great explanatory video on the matter); rather schematically, if an electricity inflow is uncertain, we need more manpower and resources to monitor the system and “play” with the electricity sources to meet demand.
BESCOM purchased its power from multiple sources in 2016: Karnataka Power Corporation Ltd (1,949 MU of at KPCL Hydel and 8,705 at KPCL Thermal); Central Government Stations (8,240 MU); Independent Power Plants (5,104 MU); Non-Conventional Energy (NCE) (4,048 MU). The good news is that approved NCE for FY 2015-16 was exceeded by 23%.
As per amended regulations, 2015 Renewable Energy Purchase Obligation (RPO) target for the period FY-16 was fixed at 10% for Non-solar and 0.25 % for solar of the total energy procurement for the financial year. Non-Solar accounted for about 13% of total energy in FY-16 with wind as the main source by far (note: Co-generation is absent), and Solar accounted for 0.45%. As much as we can rejoice at the sight of met objectives, we should also question whether these are well-chosen – and more importantly, if they do increase across time!
And there is a lot of room for more clean energy. As prescribed in Janaagraha’s Bengaluru Blueprint, dedicated power generation has to be further developed in Bengaluru, specifically through renewable energy such as solar. This can be done by incentivising solar powers through tax breaks and reduced power bills. Solar panels can also be placed in open stormwater drains or in gated communities.
Producing its own energy – whether through solar panels, waste-to-energy facilities or gas-based power plants – is becoming vital for Bengaluru, to preserve its competitiveness. If Bengaluru fails to increase its independence from the regional grid and remains subjected to insufficient and inconsistent supply, it incurs the risk of losing its attractiveness. Power cuts are detrimental to the quality of life of Bengalureans, but also greatly affect the functioning of other infrastructures such as water supply and sewerage, and the business sector. The BMRDA Revised Structure Plan 2031 points towards the same direction when it links economic growth to infrastructure and addresses its first “power” policy to the enhancing of power generation capacity.
In order to act, citizens need information. Citizen Matters recognises this need; using our urban data portal OpenCity.in to work towards more available data on Indian cities. The following data sets on BESCOM have been published recently:
Government data shared publicly can spur people’s participation: Ashwin Mahesh
Bengaluru’s ward level population data
Data from 100 years reveals the rainiest months in Bengaluru
Towards data-based problem solving