Dry August Sparks Unprecedented Power Demand Across India

August this year has been the warmest month in India for over 120 years and one of the worst monsoon-deficient months in history. As a consequence, power demand in the country is scaling new heights, raising the scepter of blackouts in a few states.

On September 1, power demand hit a staggering 240 GW. The demand was some 2 GW lower the next day. Power demand was in excess of 200 GW throughout August.

The previous all-India peak power demand recorded was 201.066 GW on April 26, 2022, surpassing the peak power demand of 200.539 GW met on July 7, 2021.

The extensive use of pump sets to irrigate lands in the absence of poor rainfall is being cited as one of the reasons for the increase in power demand.

Hydroelectricity generation, especially in peninsular India, took a hit in August, thanks to the rainfall deficit. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted normal rainfall for September, but that is unlikely to make up for the 36% deficit in August.

At 12.22 hrs, on September 1, the maximum demand met was 239,978 MW, with a shortage of 1,578 MW. At 22.40 hrs (non-solar hours) on the same day, the maximum demand met was 215,586 MW, with a shortage of 7,591 MW, according to data by the Grid Controller of India.

On that day, coal accounted for 70% of the generation, hydroelectricity 14%, and renewables 9%. Lignite, nuclear, gas, naphtha, and diesel made up for the remaining 7%.

The southern states accounted for the highest share of renewables in overall power generation at 18.25%, with the northern region coming in second at 11.03%

The unprecedented demand meant power utilities had to increase their purchases on the power exchanges. Telangana (68 MU), Karnataka 96 (MU), and Maharashtra (46 MU) were among the top buyers for the week ending September 2, according to EMA Solutions, a power analytics firm.

Karnataka’s Energy Minister K J George said recently that the state was facing a ‘summer-like situation’ with a daily power shortage of 17 MU in August. With both solar and wind generation down, the state was purchasing power to meet the shortfall.

Karnataka hit a peak demand of 16,950 MW on August 25. In the same month in 2022, the state had seen peak demand at 11,275 MW, showing the sharpest rise among all the states.

All the big states have seen power demand increase since last year.

According to the IMD, the El Nino effect will strengthen in the next few months, which means rainfall will wane further. The use of heating appliances, especially in parts of North India, will increase with the onset of winter in November. In January this year, peak demand in Delhi saw a record 5,526 MW, with temperatures plummeting.

The Ministry of Power swung into action last week, writing to all state governments and thermal power generating stations to blend imported coal with domestic coal to make up for the shortage. It said power demand has been above 200 GW on almost all the days of August and that Grid India had projected elevated power demand levels throughout the current fiscal.

In February, too, the government invoked the emergency provision in the Electricity Act to direct all imported coal-based power plants to run at full capacity and ensure the availability of electricity to meet the anticipated peak power demand. It had directed thermal power plants to blend imported coal with domestic coal.

The lower-than-targeted renewable capacity addition has meant India has to burn more coal to satisfy the increasing power demand.

India added 1.7 GW of solar capacity in the second quarter of Q2 2023. Installations dropped nearly 10% from 1.9 GW installed in Q1 2023. Capacity additions fell almost 58% year-over-year from 4 GW, according to Mercom’s Q2 2023 India Solar Market Update.

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