Social media has been on fire over the nationwide lights-off event coming up on Sunday at 9 pm. While power grid operators brainstormed through Saturday to handle the nine-minute blackout, rumours of a likely grid collapse flew thick and fast on social media platforms. In fact, ‘grid’ emerged among the top-five trends on Twitter with political leaders, engineers and sector consultants crowding the space with points and counterpoints.
The power ministry is, however, confident that the national power grid is prepared to handle fluctuations ranging from 12-15 gigawatt (GW). Measures are in place to ensure nothing goes wrong, according to the ministry. The concerns being aired on social media platforms and elsewhere came alive after Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday appealed to the public to switch off lights for 9 minutes at 9 pm on Sunday, and instead light candles, torches or mobile flashlights outside their house to show solidarity during the lockdown.
Anticipating a significant fluctuation in power demand for a short duration, the power ministry along with the Power Grid Corporation of India (PGCIL) and Power System Operation Corporation (POSOCO) have been busy drafting a plan for managing the grid and efficient supply.
Even so, political leaders have issued statements fearing a collapse of the national grid if lights are switched off for nine minutes across the country. “If all lights are switched off at once, it might lead to failure of grid. All our emergency services will fail and it might take a week’s time to restore power,” Maharashtra’s energy minister Nitin Raut said on Saturday.
Senior Congress leaders were also critical. Shashi Tharoor said an unprecedented drop in electricity demand could cause the electrical grid to crash. “One more thing the PM didn’t think about!” — he tweeted on Saturday. Jairam Ramesh, former power minister in the UPA government, also wrote on Twitter that the call to go dark can have a deep impact on the grid and its stability. Plenty of remedies were on offer too, again on social media. Switching off lights in phases, keeping the fans and air-conditioners on were among the suggestions to maintain the grid’s balance. There were others who had decided to play safe by keeping the lights on. The ministry of power maintained that the Indian electricity grid was robust and that adequate arrangements as well as protocols were in place to handle the variation in demand.
The ministry also argued that the PM had not asked people to switch off all electric appliances. “There is no call to switch off either street lights or appliances like computers, TVs, fans, refrigerators and ACs in the homes. Only lights should be switched off,” a statement issued by S N Sahai, secretary, ministry of power, said. The lights in hospitals and all other essential services like public utilities, municipal services, offices and police stations would remain on, according to the statement. The Centre has also asked all local bodies to keep the street lights on for public safety. “On demand side, one must keep in mind that it’s only the residential lighting load and not the total load that would fluctuate. As such, success of UJALA has reduced the lighting load significantly. Unless people go by fake WhatsApp messages and shut down all appliances at home, we should be fine, managing this fluctuation,” said Debashish Mishra, partner, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.
POSOCO issued an advisory to all states, power generating companies, transmission companies, regional and state-level load despatch centres to manage the lights-off event. It also asked senior personnel to be available on duty from 6-10 pm on Sunday. Also, despatch centres have been asked to avoid any deviation from the plan drafted by POSOCO.
POSOCO is expecting a reduction in load of the order of 12-13 GW within two to four minutes and recovery of the same nine minutes later within two to four minutes. Peaking power stations of hydro and gas have been asked to be on alert to provide supply instantly. Thermal stations would be ramped up post 9 pm once the demand starts going up.
Hydro and gas stations can be switched on and off instantly while coal needs time to restart. For meeting emergency needs, hydro and gas units are used. These units have a flexible capacity of close to 18 GW which would be used for ramping up and down the supply on Sunday, POSOCO said in its advisory.
“It is the two to three minutes ramp down and ramp up time that’s challenging. But as the grid operator has clarified, it’s possible to manage such an expected event by using flexible generation sources such as hydro and gas,” said Mishra.
India has 40 million urban households and 170 million rural homes. With industrial activity shut, the country’s current peak power demand stands at 120-150 GW, which is 30-40 per cent lower than normal peak demand. The total domestic lighting demand at an all-India level is estimated at 12-13 GW, which is 10 per cent of the country’s total power demand. Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra are expected to have the highest load fluctuation on Sunday.